Tag Archives: confidence

Emboldened by Ignorance

Fans and followers of Tim Ferris are already familiar with his concept of the low information diet and selective ignorance. The basic idea is that there is so much information in the world, and so much news coverage, that you could spend your life keeping up-to-date and never have time to do anything for yourself. By cutting down on the amount of news you follow, you regain time for yourself.

But there’s another benefit of selective ignorance that might be even more powerful. If you look hard enough, you can find a good (sounding) reason to not try anything:

  • Don’t record a blues album, no one listens to the blues.
  • Don’t travel abroad, terrorists have threatened the airlines again.
  • Don’t self-publish your book, they never sell.

If Brunonia Barry had known what she was doing was impossible, she never would have gotten a seven-figure book deal when she finished. According to her husband Gary Ward, “We were emboldened by our ignorance. We knew just enough to get going, but not enough to stop us.”

He encouraged Brunonia to self-publish her debut novel “Lace Reader”. They brought un-bound prints of the book to local book stores and clubs and solicited feedback.

That just isn’t how books are published. Authors submit manuscripts to publishers and wait for an offer. Then the publishers tell the authors when, where and how the book will be marketed. But Ward and Barry didn’t know that.

Had they known how the publishing business works and, more importantly, had they “known” that what they were doing wouldn’t work, there’s a good chance no one would have ever heard of “Lace Reader”. Instead, reprint rights have been sold in 20 countries and Barry is in discussion for a movie deal.

Bold doesn’t mean stupid

The danger of ignoring your critics is that sometimes they’re right. When Simon Cowell tells someone that they can’t sing, there’s a good chance he’s right. He’s an expert.

That’s not the person you want to ignore. The ones to tune out are the naysayers who tell you, “That can’t work. No one does it that way.”

Every great thing was once the new thing that no one did. Until someone ignored the critics and did it anyway.

So listen to critics. Pay attention when someone has done exactly what you’re trying and has valid feedback. But if all they have to say is, “No one does it that way,” maybe that means you’ll have the field all to yourself.

How to negotiate a better contracting rate

In any transaction, the person with more information and more experience usually comes out ahead. That’s why the typical consumer negotiating with a full-time salesman is at a huge disadvantage. A car dealer, for example, might negotiate several sales every week, while you only do it every two to three years.

So people making big decisions — new car, new house, new job — do as much research as they can, trying to level the playing field just a little bit. And lots of the information they come up with is flat out wrong.

One of the most damaging pieces of advice to follow when looking for a job is to rely on a headhunter’s self-interest to get you the best rate. The idea – which seems quite reasonable on the surface – is that the headhunter’s commission is a percentage of your salary. Obviously they want this number to be as high as possible. It’s easy to believe that their self-interest lines up with yours.

The first flaw with this idea is that the headhunter doesn’t get anything if someone else gets the job. If there are multiple qualified applicants, you are on the wrong side of a bidding war. The contractor doesn’t want to price you out of the running, so the incentive is to lowball your rate.

The second flaw is that every day the headhunter spends searching for your perfect job is day they don’t spend finding a job for the dozen other people they’re working with. They make more money by placing more people than they do by placing fewer people at higher rates. 30% of $70k x 3 is more than 30% of $80k x 2. Their incentive favors the quick hit, not protecting your interests.

So what do you do about it?

  • Stop thinking of the headhunter as your own personal agent.

    They’re doing a job for you, but they are more interested in getting you something than in getting you the best thing.

  • Know what you’ll accept before taking the interview.

    Have a bottom line that you won’t go below. Based on what you hear in the interview, you may decide to demand even more to accept the conditions. But your lower limit should never be negotiable.

  • Ask what the range is for the position up front.

    There’s no point in wasting time on a position that you’ll never take.

  • Never give up something for nothing.

    If they want you to travel and you don’t want to do it, ask for extra vacation in return. If they want you to be on call, ask for comp time. Never give up one of your demands without getting a concession in return.

  • Get it in writing.

    You can’t deposit a promise in the bank, or buy groceries with verbal assurances.

So are all headhunters ready to sell you out at a moment’s notice? Of course not, even if onlyto preserve their reputation. But if you want to avoid being disappointed, you should never forget that your best interest only sometimes matches up with the headhunter’s interests.

Negotiation starts from confidence

It seems obvious when you think about it, but I don’t hear it said very often: The first step toward getting what you want is knowing what you want. You have to do more than recognize what you want, you have to be confident in it.

Here’s an example from my college days: I worked at a bar for a couple of years. On weekends, we’d have someone at the door checking ID. There were plenty of people who tried to talk their way in without any.

One night the regular doorman was late, and I covered for him. The first girl who showed up without ID smiled, batted her eyelashes and asked “pretty please?” I said something like, “Gee, I really wish I could, but rules are rules, etc.” She argued, I refused, she got mad … I’d like to chalk my behavior up to my youth and her smile, but the bottom line is I didn’t project confidence in what I wanted.

The next girl who showed up without ID (for some reason guys never tried this with me, I don’t know why) I just told her I needed ID or she couldn’t get in, sorry. She threw a quick pout, then left to find someplace else she could get into.

As I thought about this later I realized the first girl wasn’t mad because she wasn’t allowed in. She was mad because I gave the impression I might be open to negotiation but I wasn’t.

Moral of the story: Know which of your goals are negotiable and which ones aren’t. Never give the impression that one of the former might be one of the latter. Reasonable people can respect an honest difference of opinion, but will read indecisiveness as an opportunity to negotiate.

Update: I found another way of putting this, on Scott Berkun‘s site where he explains why things suck:

It’s the things that tease us, making us think they’ll satisfy us but then failing, that hurt the most.

He was pointing out that people don’t complain about things they don’t care about, but it works really well to explain what happened to me when I was working at the bar.