Saturday, April 24, 2010

Some Reasons Why Blacks Fail

I was part of a panel speaking to an audience of inner-city residents, overwhelmingly African-American.

I told my father's story--with embedded lessons about the worthiness of all work (He sewed shirts in a factory in Harlem for near minimum wage), the freedom to live life as you want by adopting a non-materialistic lifestyle, and a refusal to play victim, even though he was wrested from his home as a teenager by the Nazis, was in a concentration camp while all his family members were killed--he escaped with 11 men), came to the U.S. without a penny, without education, a word of English, nor family, only the scars of the Holocaust tortures. Yet he didn't take a penny of government assistance except that he attended night school to learn English. And when I asked him, when I was 13, why he rarely talked about the Holocaust, he said, "Martin, the Nazis took five years from my life. I'm not going to give them one minute more. Martin, never look back; always look forward."

The most interesting statement made by my co-panelists was by Wilson Riles, Jr. (pictured above,) former Oakland City Councilman and son of California Schools Superintendent Wilson Riles Sr. He said, "Young people are going to do drugs, destroy property, and such. They need unconditional love if they're going to have self-esteem."

I countered that that is precisely the opposite of what parent of successful, productive children provide. Love should not be unconditional. Self-esteem should not be the goal. Most successful people have fairly low self-esteem, not so low they're curled up in bed all day with a bottle of vodka, but low enough that they're always concerned, "Am I good enough? How can I get better?" They have parents who don't for a moment, tolerate that their kids are going to do drugs, destroy property, etc. When I had a gambling habit, my mother kicked my gambling crony out of my house: "You do not dare come here again. And Martin, if you gamble again, I am kicking you out of the house." I got the message. I didn't need unconditional love; I needed conditional love.

Riles responded by saying that I was being simplistic and that kids at Stanford exhibit the same sort of behavior--they do drugs, destroy their dorms, etc., and they turn out fine. We just need to give kids a safe place to do their teenage exploratory behavior."

I felt it was inappropriate to dominate the discussion (there were two other panelists) so I shut up rather than list the many fallacies of his counterargument. (e.g., severity, prevalence, and authority-response to the behavior at Stanford, plus the far-greater-than-average intellectual reserves that Stanford students have that will enable them to be productive members of society despite modest adolescent excesses.)

At the end, when the event's convener thanked the panelists, we got a standing ovation--but nearly all the smiling eyes were directed at him, not at me, nor the other panelists, who were noncontroversial.

During the luncheon that followed, attendees came up to me and said "I respect your right to say what you believe but..." whereupon they launched into statements about the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and institutional racism, and the need for yet more decades of government programs and nonprofit activism to radicalize "the community."

The only real supporter of my views was one of the few white attendees (the caterer of the luncheon). She said, "You opened my eyes to the wrongness of unconditional love both for the child and for the parent who often has to sacrifice their quality of life to deal with a miscreant child."

Maybe I'm just some white guy out of touch with the African-American experience (even though I grew up in the diverse Bronx and Flushing, Queens, taught in inner-city schools in New York City and Richmond, CA and visited many of my students' homes and took students home for the weekend), but I deeply believe that African-Americans' low achievement, as well as that of all people, would be far more improved by an end to the excuse-making and a start to a truly honest discussion of why, despite 60 years of mammoth spending on compensatory programs, media bombardment us with relentless messages about the greatness of African Americans and denigration of whites, the racial achievement and crime gaps remain as wide as ever.

I walked out of there depressed.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Black Racism

I received this email today from a reader. (He's asked that I not mention his name.)


The latest hate crime in Oakland resulted in the death of a poor, helpless, non-English-speaking, Chinese victim. This blatant act of murder was committed by racist black thugs.

Black racism directed at non-blacks, especially towards Asian immigrants and Asian Americans is rampant in Oakland and in cities all across America.

It is hypocritical and disingenuous to not acknowledge that black racism is the impetus behind many crimes committed by black thugs against Asian victims. This ugly reality needs to be openly discussed, black racists need to be vilified, and responsible community groups need to find real solutions.

Black politicians, police administrators, and other so-called leaders need to be held accountable for their whitewashing of black racist hate crimes. These people howl so loudly when there is even the barest hint of racism -- real or imagined -- directed towards blacks.

Where is the outrage when a black racist is the perpetrator? Violent racists of any color should be demonized and punished.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Networking's Irony

Networking's "rule:" Give before asking. But I've had countless clients give and give, yet when they ask, they get zip.

For example, today, I had a client, Eric, who's been unemployed for two years and, has followed the standard exhortations to--before asking for a job lead--give generously to a good-sized network of people with the potential to offer a lead. But when Eric finally asked, and asked, and asked, no one gave him squat.

Frankly, I understand. Eric's self-esteem is too high--he's a pretty dim bulb but fancies himself as someone who shouldn't have to sell insurance any more--that because he's a caring, supportive guy, he should be hireable as a manager. Even if he offered to take me out to lunch, sent me interesting articles, offered to teach me bowling, etc., if I felt he wasn't fully qualified for a job, I wouldn't give him a job lead.

What did I tell Eric? Keep giving, albeit only when you feel you want to give without any expectation of return--it's the right way to live life. And ask yourself, "If none of those many people to whom you've been so giving has offered you a job lead, perhaps you need to identify a new job target they'd feel more comfortable referring you for.

Ironically, the people who most need their network's help are the least likely to get it.

The Supposed Gender Pay Gap

Today's Time hauled out the old misleading statistic that women earn less than men, this time saying that even when "a number of factors" are considered, women still only earn 91% on the dollar compared with men.

Could it be that the 9% differential are the result of the many factors not considered, for example, these from the book, Why Men Earn More:
  • Women who work "full time" work fewer hours than do men.
  • When women make the choice to have children are more likely to spend it with their kids than, for example, flying across the country for a conference, let alone a promotion. Indeed, salary studies of the unmarried find that women, for the same work, earn more than men.
  • Even within the same job title, the person with more technical skills is more likely to be given a higher salary, since technical skills are more rarely held. Men are more likely to develop technical expertise.
Why do major publications like Time publish such shoddily supported articles when they favor women when stronger articles documenting unfairness to men are rejected without comment?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Where the Job is Won or Lost: AFTER the Interview

By tbe time the job interview(s) is done, the typical job seeker is glad to just dash off a perfunctory thank-you note and be done with it.

Alas, in our ever more competitive job market, one of the other interviewees is likely to have just started to compete for the job.That job seeker engages in what the Five O'Clock Club calls post-interview activism. For example:
  • In your thank-you note, include a proposal for what you might do for that employer, for example, "In light of our interview, it would seem helpful if I (insert a bold set of activities.")
  • If you flubbed a question in the interview, write, "I've thought more about (insert question.) On reflection (insert smarter answer.)
  • Write an individualized letter to each interviewer, stating what you appreciated about that person and perhaps what work you might do for that person if hired.
  • Write a few-page white paper addressing an employer need.
  • Overnight a book that would address a need expressed by an interviewer.
  • Have someone call the hiring decisionmaker on your behalf: "I hear Joe Jones is applying for a position as (insert your target job.) I just wanted to put my two cents in. You'd be very wise to hire him."
Usually, key to getting and staying well-employed is being smart, skilled, motivated, and low-maintenance. But ahead-of-the-pack job-search strategies such as being a post-interview activist can help.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Yet Another Example of How the Media Considers Men The Disposable Sex

When women are "underrrepresented" in science, Time does a cover story calling for redress.

When women are "underrepresented" in high-level corporate positions, Time calls for redress.

But when men are "underrepresented"--in the most important category of all: whether they live (Men live 5.4 years shorter than women, dying earlier of 9 of the 10 leading causes of death), what does Time do? Routinely write about women's health., e.g, this week's TimeHealth: The Advocates, described in that issue's table of contents as: "Our latest wellness checkup surveys the state of women's health."

I searched Time 's archive for the last 50 years on the term "men's health" and found 34 listings. I then searched on "women's health" and found 148--that's 470% as many articles on women's health, even though men die 5.4 years younger.

Why the double standard? Because men visit the doctor less often? Would that justify not focusing on women who are, for example, obese?

I'll Be Doing Another Job-Seeker Boot Camp

Three months ago I emceed, keynoted, and moderated a panel (I'm the guy in the beige jacket) at the Job Seeker Boot Camp sponsored by Congresswoman Jackie Speier.

It drew almost 1,000 people so she is sponsoring another, this one at the South San Francisco Conference Center on April 30 from 10 2 p.m.. Click here for more info. Admission is free.

I will be doing two large-group sessions there:

11:15 a.m. to noon What to Say After "Hello." An interactive session on how to make networking pay quickly.

12:15 to 1:00 p.m. Where Jobs are Won and Lost: after the interview.

Friday, April 16, 2010

AmericaWorks: A Blueprint for Permanently Increasing U.S. Employment

AmericaWorks has three components:

America Aides: The government would encourage people to hire homework helpers for their children, mentors, tutors, and personal assistants for themselves (e.g., to learn technology, Spanish, or English), members of a U.S. Beautification Army for their home and block, and companions for their aged parents.

Hire An American: Encourage job seekers to post their resume on The federal government would market this database globally, encouraging other countries to offshore to the US.

Career-Friendly Curriculum, K-16. Replace material needed by few, for example, quadratic equations, with material needed by most, for example: financial literacy, entrepreneurship, service learning.


Well-paying jobs will require ever more skills, abilities, intelligence, and drive. For the millions of Americans who cannot realistically be expected to acquire high-enough levels of those attributes, I propose America Aides. The government would mount a public awareness campaign on the wisdom of people hiring aides throughout the lifespan: as homework helpers for their children. in their career (as, for example, tutors in technology, Spanish or English, or as career or personal coaches,) for their homes and apartments (a member of a U.S. Beautification Army) to weed, paint, clean out garages and basements, recycle, etc. and for their aged, living-alone relatives.

For example, with brief training, even many low-ability people could be trained to successfully be one-on-one aides in classrooms and to seniors living alone. Imagine the peace of mind of having someone daily visit your aging parent to ensure they've taken their medications, walk to reduce the likelihood of blood clots, and keep them company to combat the loneliness common among the live-alone elderly.

AmericaWorks would, with modest government investment, create millions of rewarding, ethical and, importantly, not-offshoreable jobs that would improve the quality of life for millions of Americans and for the nation as a whole.


Job seekers would be encouraged to enter their resume into a national jobs database: That would be made available to all government, private-sector, and nonprofit employers, worldwide.
To encourage international employers to hire from that database, the U.S. would launch an international marketing effort to promote the benefits of hiring American--for example, the creative and innovative spirit that is core to being American. Just as many American businesses have been convinced to hire offshore employees, the new American workforce, improved because of the revamped education system described above, would become more attractive to the world's 200+ other countries. American workers could become known, for example, as among the world's most intrapreneurial.


Elementary school

The curriculum would increase career exploration: via videos, reading, guest speakers, field trips, etc., to make career selection a part of kids' consciousness. There would be entrepreneurship programs, for example, by creating in-class businesses, e.g., divide the class into two healthy snack-making/selling businesses. In that context, kids would learn to assess risk-reward and think entrepreneurially (find a need and fill it ethically). Those skills would be threaded--at ever more demanding levels--through the curriculum, through college. In parallel, modules on service learning would be included--encouraging students, early, to consider careers in government and the nonprofit sectors.

Parents would be encouraged to create an ethical entrepreneurship-friendly atmosphere at home.

High school

Prior to entering high school, in consultation with counselor and parents, students would select a career path based on a review of the child's academic record and an inventory of her or his career aptitudes and interests.

Importantly, high-quality career paths that don't require college would be available for students whose record suggests they'd more likely be successful and happy without attending college. Such programs would lead to apprenticeships, jobs at the elbow of entrepreneurs, the military, etc. They'd end up with such careers as MRI machine tech, chef, military officer, small business owner, etc. Students who are not academically oriented are much more likely to find successful employment through such paths than being force-fed Shakespeare, simultaneous equations, and chemical reaction formulas. Students and parents would be reassured that choosing a career path does not consign themselves to a life in that career--many of the skills taught in that career path would be applicable to many other careers. To ensure opportunities to excel, there would be honors classes in non-college-bound career paths.

It should be stressed that today's growing pressure to prepare an ever higher percentage of students to enter so-called four-year colleges (fewer than 40% graduate in four years) is destroying countless lives by forcing students into abstraction-filled academic paths where they are far less likely to be successful than if they had pursued a high-quality path that doesn't lead to a four-year college. According to the U.S. Department of Education, of the 200,000 freshmen at so-called four-year college each year who graduated in the bottom 40% of their high school class, three-fourths do not graduate even if given 8 1/2 years! And most of those who defy the odds and graduate do so from low-prestige colleges and with easy majors such as art or sociology, which impress few of today's let alone tomorrow's employers. Most of those students end up with huge debt, having enduring a multi-year assault to their self-esteem, and are less hireable for good jobs than if they had taken a non-college-requiring, high-quality career path in and/or post-high school.

For all students, effective oral and written real-world communication would take precedence over the use of onomatopoeia. Learning how to assess risk/reward would take precedence over geometric theorems. Understanding how to critique a research study reported in the media would take precedence over learning atomic structures. Strategic planning would be prioritized over macroeconomic theory. Financial literacy would take precedence over literary analysis.

Each high-school student would be paired with an mentor (probably online) who would communicate with the teen and perhaps offer him or her an after-school or vacation volunteer or even paid position. Each school would have a mentorship coordinator to prevent and address problems and to encourage people to serve as mentors.

Professional associations of the major careers would be encouraged to carefully review how much pre-service training is truly needed. Training length has increased at a time when, because of the availability of just-in-time information on the Internet, training length should be decreasing. In addition, career training often isn't best provided by universities--Those research- and theory-based professors are often less able than master practitioners to provide effective career training. Making the above changes would both improve training and increase the number of trained professionals--because of the lower cost and time of training.

Students would be required to complete interactive modules in technology, succeeding in business (e.g., how to run a planning meeting), how to manage a nonprofit or government agency, and ethics, which would be anchored by students role playing commonly occurring ethical dilemmas.

While parents should be allowed to have their children opt out, a comprehensive sex education program should be provided starting in middle school or certainly in high school. Teenage and unwanted pregnancies are too likely to produce a child who will grow up to be minimally employable. As in the ethics module, core would be simulations of critical incidents, for example, explicit "lines" commonly used by teenagers to seduce.


Colleges would be required to disclose to prospective students a College Report Card: for each major, the percentage of students who graduate within four years and, within a year of graduation, are earning a middle-class living. These data would be disaggregated by high school GPA and SAT score. The College Report Card would also include--for varying freshman achievement levels--the average freshman-to-senior growth in reading, writing, critical thinking, and mathematical reasoning.

Starting at freshman orientation, students would be required to take programs in career selection, job searching, obtaining internships and/or starting a business.

U.S. higher education leads the world in research produced but lacks in teaching quality. The core reason is that professors are hired and promoted heavily based on research productivity. That requires a skill and value set too different from what's required to teach undergraduates. Those hired to teach undergraduates should, at minimum, be required to complete a teaching bootcamp.

As stated earlier, courses in career-related majors should more often be taught by master practitioners than by research-oriented professors.

This proposal was developed by Marty Nemko. He holds a Ph.D. specializing in educational program development and evaluation from the University of California, Berkeley and subsequently taught in U.C. Berkeley's Graduate School of Education. U.S. News & World Report called him "Career coach extraordinaire." At ABC-TV's Summit on Education, he was introduced him as "The Ralph Nader of Education." He can be reached at or 510-655-2777.

Wanted: Under-served Gifted Boys

I will be interviewing intellectually gifted boys and/or a parent who feels the child's needs are being poorly met in their public school.

I'll conduct the interviews by phone, or if the family lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, I'll video the interview and, if his teacher agrees, I'll video the boy in his classroom.

I'll post the best interviews and videos here as well as attempt to publish them in major media.

If you'd like to nominate someone, let me know: post it as a comment on this blog, email me at, or phone me at 510-655-2777.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Why Mentoring Bright Boys is a Great Use of Your Volunteer Time

My previous two posts discussed how to mentor bright boys but gave short shrift to why I believe it's one of the best uses of one's volunteer time.

Today, we tend to view boys negatively and believe that when bright boys succeed, it's despite their maleness. So, with all the good causes for you to devote your time to, why mentor a bright boy?

Many bright boys today feel neglected. Thanks, in part, to No Child Left Behind, most schools focus on low-achieving kids. Bright ones are too often ignored or made to tutor slow kids. Sure, bright kids derive some benefit from tutoring the slow but making a kid who's reading on a sixth grade level read The Cat in the Hat to a weak student is mainly a way to reduce everyone to the lowest common denominator.

Imagine you were forced to sit bored for six hours a day, five days a week, for 180 school days, for more than a decade. How would you feel? Now imagine that, like many boys, you are active and have a hard time sitting still for six hours. Mightn't you act up? How'd you feel if the teacher (usually a woman who cannot understand why you can't sit there all day) yells at you, gives you bad grades, and virtually forces you to take Ritalin (an amphetamine) in order to attend class?

Would you live up to your considerable potential? Are you likely to enjoy a happy childhood?

For the foreseeable future, the schools will not change. Even though many more boys than girls drop out, and commit suicide, and far fewer go to college, disproportionate attention is paid to girls: for example, curriculum that highlights women's accomplishments and men's evils; e.g., the enormous coverage given to Pocahontas, Sacajawea, Harriet Tubman , Marie Curie, and Susan B. Anthony and to white male tyrants from Hannibal to Hitler to Joe McCarthy. Girls are allowed to wear tee shirts that say, "Boys are stupid. Throw rocks at them" yet no one would even dare make a tee shirt that said "Girls are stupid. Throw rocks at them."

Lest we have a generation of bright boys with enormous wasted potential and who experience great pain, we need fair-minded people, especially men, to mentor bright boys. How about you?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

How to Mentor a Kid

In my previous post, I suggested that mentoring a bright boy is a rarely considered but valuable sort of volunteerism. In that post, I also list ways to find a deserving kid.

Here I describe what I'd do if I was to mentor a bright kid, male or female.

1. I'd ask his parent(s) about the boy's strengths, weaknesses, interests, needs, and any issues I need to understand.

2. I'd meet the child with the parent(s) there. I'd, in a minute or so, tell a little about myself. Then I'd ask the child about those same things I asked the parent about.

In that meeting, I'd ask the kid, "What sorts of activities might you find fun to do with me?" If he couldn't come up with any, I'd suggest a few that seemed consonant with who he is that I too would find fun, for example: play with a chemistry set, play ball, visit the library, build a rocket, write a short story together, hike, go to a museum, amusement park, a movie, play, plant a garden, do a science experiment, read a book aloud (perhaps alternating pages--I read for two minutes; then he reads for two minutes.)

I'd ask if he'd appreciate being able to email or phone me if he had something he wanted to ask or tell me.

3. We'd meet either regularly or irregularly, in-person and/or by phone, email, or SkypeVideo.

When it felt right, I'd ask questions to help understand what he's dealing with, practically and psychologically. Yes, sometimes, I'd offer advice. Other times, I'd just play facilitator.

4. If I felt the relationship was insufficiently rewarding to him or me, I'd gently and tactfully sever it and find someone else to mentor. Mentoring is a great gift to a kid and I'd want to give it to someone who is really benefiting from it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mentor a Bright Boy

Among the most beneficial ways to volunteer is to mentor a bright boy.

Endless programs exist to mentor and otherwise help girls and women, far fewer for boys, even though boys' school and life performance, relative to girls, has so declined in recent decades. For example, in 1980, the ratio of college graduates was 50/50. Now it's approaching 40% male, 60% female.

I advocate helping bright boys rather than boys in general because the public schools are now so focused on helping the lowest achievers that bright kids' great potential is so often being wasted. They're forced to sit stultified and if they can't, they're too often put on a Ritalin leash.

How you mentor can vary. For example, you could do a recreational activity together: build a model, play basketball with him, whatever. In the process, bring up topics that might help him identify interests, reveal problems, come up with questions to ask you. You could meet once a week or once a month, or not meet at all--mentorship by phone and email counts.

To find a bright boy who could use a mentor, contact the counselor at a local school, the gifted child coordinator in your school district, the principal of your church or synagogue's Sunday School, or simply ask your friends or PTA members.

Monday, April 12, 2010

An Alternative to Advice-Giving

My client said he was reluctant to let his friends know he's looking for a job.

Rather than give him the ol' pep talk, for example, "Friends are a great source of job leads, and don't worry, these days, lots of good people are looking for work," I said, "Pretend you are your twin brother and your brother said, 'I don't want to let my friends know I'm looking for a job.' How would you respond?"

He ended up giving the same advice I would have given.

Then I asked, "What would you say back to your twin?" He said, "I know, but it's hard. I'll be embarrassed to tell them." I asked, "How would your twin respond?" His "twin" said, "Get a grip and grow up." He laughed at himself.

Advice-giving is so tempting but often fails to get results. Where possible, figure out a way to get the person to come up with the advice himself.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Professors: These are worth your tuition?

This was forwarded to me by David Koller. It was a comment on an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Comment 10. By supertatie - April 08, 2010

After 19 years in higher ed, it has been my observation that academics - aspiring and actual - generally have an inflated sense of their own intellectual importance, BUT (and this is significant, in my view) a disproportionately negative sense of the importance of any and every other profession and career choice.

Thus they (like "Charlotte") wax rhapsodic about the ivory tower, and couch in thinly veiled disdain their views of having to do something - anything - else. Which tells you plenty about what they think of everyone else who DOES choose those jobs. ("Well, someone must do them, I suppose," they sniff, waving pale uncalloused hands loftily as they dismiss lawyers, accountants, car dealers, and chefs).

There are so many things wrong with this viewpoint that it's hard to know where to start, but here are just a few observations:

1. If academe is so wonderful, then why do so many academicians spend most of their careers (if the Chronicle is any indication) complaining about teaching loads, grading papers, diffident students, "helicopter" parents, foul-tempered colleagues, juggling parenting and one of the most flexible work schedules in the world, publication requirements, the tenure process, biased peer reviewers, narrow-minded journal editors, knuckle-dragging administrators, and budget cuts? This strikes me as comparable to becoming a garbage collector and then complaining constantly about the smell.

2. If - as has been the pedagogy meme for some time now - humans are or at least ought to be 'lifelong learners,' then why is it not also true that one can be a leader, a teacher, and a visionary in the capacity of something other than a professor? Great litigators shape the law and provide redress for the injured. Brilliant engineers invent things and devise solutions that improve the lives of millions of people. Physicians, nurses and others in the health care professions save lives, and treat illness and injury. Midwives deliver babies. Hospice care workers help people make the transition from life to death (and, one hopes, beyond), chefs feed us, pastors comfort us, contractors build our homes ... the list goes on and on. Every career choice brings with it the opportunity to make a difference, to be a role model, and to influence and impact people. And, I would argue, even more, perhaps than cranking out perfunctorily reams of papers with citations to others' works most of which (let's be honest) have not been read, published in journals that (more honesty here), few other than a handful of peers will ever read.

Here is my advice to those "vane-ly" seeking academic posts: GO DO SOMETHING ELSE. MAKE something. BUILD something. SELL something. Start a business. Provide a good, or a service that other people are willing to pay for. Heck, write a book, if you think you have something to say.

Academia tends to remove those who work there from the reality that at least some of the worth of what they do is or should be measured by others' willingness to PAY for it. They can disregard that necessity that drives most others outside of academe, because the dirty job of coming up with the funds to keep going is handled by advancement, development, or (in the case of public universities), lobbyists and the legislature. True, there are grants to apply for, but persuading a research review committee is a far different thing than persuading the average Joe or Jane on the street to part with their hard-earned cash for what you're selling.

I think that the best thing for a lot of these Ph.Ds without job offers would be to stop whining, go out into the "real world" and get some of the satisfaction that comes from doing something that isn't purely theoretical."

The writer omitted the fact that because the faculty is overwhelmingly leftist and hubristic in their rectitude, they believe all wisdom resides left of center. So, in exchange for students' fortune of money and time, instead of a full-dimensioned education, they spew a truncated, arcana-larded brainwashing.

Some of My More Potent Career Advice

I was musing on what's been working with my clients. Here are three goodies:

Think, "Is this time-effective?" Have a voice on your shoulder always whispering in your ear, "Is this activity time-effective?" Should I do it less perfectionistically? Should I not do it at all or delegate it?

Keeping the time-effectiveness mantra in mind will get you more done, not just because you'll spend less time on many tasks but because you'll procrastinate less--If you're perfectionistic, tasks are long and painful--Who wouldn't want to procrastinate such tasks?

Consider the largest perspective. That helps me in many contexts. For example, when deciding what projects to take on, I ask myself, "What activity will yield the greatest good?" (That's the utilitarian philosophy, my core guiding principle.)

Considering the largest perspective also keeps me from overworrying. When I worry whether I've managed my cash flow during tax season well enough to avoid bouncing a check--say, to the IRS--I say to myself, "What's the worst that can happen? How important is that in the cosmic scheme of things?"

Considering the largest perspective also keeps me from overpreparing. For example, in prepping for a radio show, I keep in mind that it is but one of thousands aired at the same time and that the show will soon vanish into the black hole of forgotten radio shows past.

The final tip doesn't relate to career but it's too short to devote a whole post to, so, here it is:

Buy a category-killer stock on bad news. Toyota is arguably the world's finest carmaker. The day after its sticky-accelerator problem was announced, I bought Toyota stock at 72. In a week it had risen to 80, which is where is stands now. 10% gain in a week? Cool.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Shopping Wisely in the Web 2.0 Era

The tougher the economy, the more wisely we must shop. Fortunately, today's Internet makes it easy to do so.

Step 1. Ask yourself, "Is buying this thing my wisest use of those dollars?" Sure, that new car, furniture, big-screen TV, "real" jewelry, yet another pair of shoes, or first-class vacation would be nice, but what's the opportunity cost? Would the money more wisely be saved? Spent on something else?

Think three times before buying a non-essential on credit.

Assuming you decide you should buy it, this sort of approach
to shopping wisely on the Net will work well for many items:

Step 2: Resist advertisements. Disproportionately, a company advertises when its product fares poorly in online reviews and word-of-mouth.

So, for example,
Toyota spent little on advertising the Prius because it knew that reviews and word-of-mouth would do the trick. In contrast, carmakers that provide poor value advertise heavily: GM, Chrysler, Mercedes, BMW, Infiniti, etc. For example, Consumer Reports finds that Mercedes in addition to its gulp-inducing price, breaks down more often and requires more expensive and frequent maintenance than most cars.

Other examples: Pfizer advertises Lipitor heavily because much cheaper generic statins are available. Safeway advertises more than Wal-Mart because it often charges much more for the same items. For example, I just bought an eight-ounce bottle of Gulden's Spicy Brown Mustard at Wal-Mart for $1.18. At Safeway, it's $3.65--more than 300 percent as expensive!

President Obama urged us to spend more to goose the economy--He even offered "Cash for Clunkers," to make predominantly modest-income people dump their running cars into landfills so those poor folks can go deeply in debt to buy a new car. I don't believe we--individually or as a society--live the life well-led when we buy what we don't need, especially on credit.

Step 3. Pick your model by googling the product and the word "reviews," for example, "big-screen TV" reviews.
(Note I put big-screen TV in quotes so Google recognizes it as a phrase.) Also see if your product is reviewed on, which summarizes reviews from a number of sources, usually including Consumer Reports and

If my product is not reviewed on, I visit has user reviews of an enormous range of products.
I generally value user reviews over expert ones--experts' evaluations are too weighted by bells, whistles, and technical specifications that are trivial in benefit.

Another reason I prefer user reviews is that many more are available, notably on I believe in the wisdom of crowds.

If I need a service, for example, a plumber, I consult sites such as,,, and/or a local gem, Berkeley Parents Network. I don't necessarily nix a service provider because of one bad review--sometimes, it's written by a
rare unhappy customer or even by a firm trying to make its competitor look bad.

Step 4. Google the item's model number.
That search usually yields Google's product search engine, which reports the price--including shipping and tax--from multiple vendors, including user ratings of the vendor's reliability.

Before deciding where to buy the item, I usually price-check it on Amazon and eBay. Amazon is great because, for each millions of products, it aggregates many vendors' prices (for the item new and used,) has the most reviews both of product and vendor, and offers one-click buying. Amazon even makes returning items easy. eBay is worth checking because its prices, which sometimes are the lowest, don't show up on a Google or Amazon search. (By the way, I predict a merger of Amazon and eBay.)

Today's Internet makes it so easy to buy the best-choice products at the lowest price, delivered effortlessly to your door. There's no schlepping in traffic to stores with no parking--and even if you can park, compared with the Internet, in a store, you're much less likely to find the most appropriate product, let alone at the best price. And returning an item requires another schlep

Alas, the ease of Internet shopping can tempt us into overspending. Remember, the life well-led is much more about good work, a rewarding avocation, and someone to love.