Wednesday, November 02, 2016


You'd probably be surprised at how much you could accomplish today if you just drew on your Goodwill. Now, today's my day off and I'm just doing a few sketch studies of bats, but I imagine that if I leaned on the goodwill of my social network I could probably borrow about $3k without even touching a financial institution. That's right, ambiguous due dates, 0 interest a bunch of calls/emails asking people for the max amount of money that doesn't bring about hesitation over my ability to pay...

And see, what I'm describing already sounds sinister, and chances are contemplating how much money you could borrow from friends and loved ones before you disappear might be an interesting thought experiment - unless you've ever had a substance abuse problem and actually lived that thought experiment or alternately if you've ever lent money to somebody with a substance abuse problem or even just no ability to manage finances.

I haven't really, and one of my most dubious achievements of recent years was getting repaid a loan of cash from someone notorious for bad debts. Even so, the experience of lending that friend money generated badwill, apparently not even a word - yet I'm sure an accountant could put a dollar value on badwill and include it as a liability line item on the balance sheet.

Because if I can achieve $3k in loans today, I'm sure I can't do that tomorrow, I might over the course of a month be able to double that figure but the fact is I'm going to exhaust my social contacts and furthermore the further I stray from people with whom I hold the most goodwill the smaller the amounts I can ask for. It's simply not sustainable, I can't fleece my income off my friends just yet.

At which point I invoke an apparent 40% rule, that I heard about 3rd hand from a Big Think video who came across a former navy seal during an ultra-marathon. Allegedly, the Navy Seals have this rule that when our minds think our bodies are at their limit, we are usually actually only at about 40% of true physical exhaustion. They train their minds to dig deeper and go farther, something somewhat repeated by Australian Sports Institute Science-type-guys in the ABC somewhat second rate program 'redesign my brain' (the creativity episodes are truly not worth watching).

I thought about this a lot between the 30-40k mark of my marathon (the last 2km are okay) I ran a comfortable marathon this year but that 10k stretch was still fucking unpleasant. I have no idea how to dig deeper, but I imagine in principle it translates to exhausting the good will of your social capital. So while I assume I'm tapped out at $6k that could be just 40% of the actual value of my goodwill if I really dug deep and put my mind to it. Now I was never good at dividing numbers by percentages but if my shoddy maths is right, the 40% rule would mean that I could somehow borrow $15k from family and loved ones, probably not today but that's 3 times better than the gross revenue of my best art exhibition.

I'm never going to do this, but I might experiment with trying the 40% rule on deciding when one of my art pieces is finished. I don't believe the rule to be useless.

But even keeping it in the physical dimension, I believe it important to understand why such a thing would exist - physiologically. This rule wasn't invented but discovered, because it's how we've evolved and I think business and even individuals could learn a lot just by thinking about it.

So last year the marathon was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life - I went out way too hard, ran the best half marathon of my life followed by the worst half marathon of my life and would have dropped out at 34km had there not been a t-shirt at stake for finishing it. Suppose that complete utter defeat was actually only 40% of what I was capable of pushing my body through though? I could barely walk the next week, and by that I mean the whole of the next week at 40%. The cost in recovery time for doing 60% more than that must be immense. My body is not capable of pulling out a sub-3 hour marathon every day.

I'm sure because you're a clever biscuit the moment I suggested thinking about why we evolved the 40% rule was that it's not healthy to operate at the limits of your physical potential on a regular basis. It may be useful if you're a navy seal to train their brain to push past exhaustion points and maybe an elite professional athlete, but it's not a skill you would want for living day-to-day lifestyles. I'm not sure if it's easier or not to understand that we shouldn't live our day-to-day at the thresholds of our financial credit either.

I don't know much medicine, much biology but I assume that the kind of things our body can produce like adrenaline and lactic acid can help us perform certain tasks but also take their toll. So the good shit can easily transform into toxic shit, and in the same way goodwill is more likely to translate into badwill sooner than simply move to neutral.

And rather than talk about squeezing shit to it's absolute limits, lets talk about that transformation happening simply by creeping in slowly.

When I was a teenager I read a book called 'how to become CEO' I liked it so I picked up the author's other title 'How to become Rainmaker' a perhaps culturally insensitive Americanism for top performing sales person. There's only three really tangible lessons I recall from that book but I'm not an exceptional salesrep anyways. Of those only one is pertinent and that was 'make one more call'

It ran some numbers about how staying back an extra ten minutes and making one more sales call a shift resulted in x number of extra conversions a week meaning y number of extra dollars a year and some such. But really it's just the familiar 'digging deeper' thing. And it may work for a plucky ambitious young sales rep to impose on themselves.

The real reduction of this post on badwill is when you step it up to managing a team of sales reps. Initiative is all well and good, but if your job is assessed not on the sales you make but the sales of the team of sales reps you supervise, how do you apply a lesson like 'make one more call'?

You could impose it, and if not explicitly then perhaps tacitly - by applying pressure. Particularly if your sales team is paid on a casual basis and has no real job security. You probably can't make them stay back late, (unless you draw on the good-will of your team) or you could try to motivate them and keep them out of their comfort zone.

For example, say that making 1 sale an hour is average for your team and 2 per hour is a good night. You as manager could ratchet the expectations up to 2, so that your sales team no longer feels like they are on task with 1 sale an hour and chuffed with 2, but have them get the same psychic return for actually performing exceptionally.

And it can work, suddenly your reps don't breath easy if they luck out and get the first sale of the night quickly - they need to chase the next one the moment they hang up on that first one - because they now only have 50 minutes to do what they had an hour to accomplish on the old rates.

Of course, somebody in accounts figured out that your contract has you making a profit with 1 sale an hour, and probably break-even is actually down at 0.3 or something - necessary to actually keep the business reasonably viable. But not you, you drive your team hard. Some thrive under the pressure, other's crash and burn. And by thrive I mean your top performers don't notice a difference, except that they probably feel their performance is closer to the average now and less job security.

Thrilled with your success you ratchet the strategy up for the next quarter - there's talk of you being in line for a promotion. 2 per goes to 2.25 per hour - or perhaps 2.5 per hour.

And therein you are inspired by the teams innovations and creativity as they start looking over their shoulder and imitating the successful sales reps techniques to try and keep their jobs, or perhaps (since the rates don't reflect what the company can afford) just to keep their mental health in check.

Except they start cutting corners, being deliberately ambiguous in their pitches or even borderline misrepresenting themselves. They start using 'foot in door' techniques like asking people for 30 seconds for a quick chat (you have probably experienced this penalty for stopping to talk to a street charity rep) your reps start drawing down the societal goodwill of how we tacitly agree to treat strangers.

In fact, charity-muggers are a great example - as a phenomena they have retrained pedestrian society to avoid eye contact from smiling strangers and to ignore a handshake. I don't have access to the books of Telemarketers and Charity-muggers and every other badwill generating business, but I would bet what little I have is that they would support a business model that is essentially 'how much goodwill can we lean on today' and while sales companies are using a sort of 'goodwill of the commons' I can't conceive from what I've read how the fundraising strategy of street intercepts by high-turnover backpackers can cover the costs of the strategy and not damage the branding of the charities they represent.

What I do notice is that many of the first charities to adopt charity mugging like Amnesty international no longer do it.

I digress though, what I'm really talking about is sustainability vs growth at heart. Badwill is generated by short term thinking, growth for growths sake. I suspect such management strategies survive because most of us balk at exerting more energy at 40% of our capacity. Something in biology makes us prone to sustainable thinking.

Most of us for example have enough mathematical intuition to imagine that we cannot sustain doubling our productivity every day. (Though in my teen years, few enough of my friends realised that passing on chain-emails that claimed if you do not forward this to 20 people you will die or what not - should have witnessed the mass extinction of the human race by the time they recieve the email let alone forward it.) Maybe not enough of us realise we can't sustain doubling our productivity every year. The biggest gains come from moving from incompetence to mere-competence, returns diminish from that point.

Many of us live in business environments where we perhaps do not appreciate that the superstars of our office are often simply competent people. The status quo is wasteful. Even in a telemarketing job, the hypothetical one I designed, the status quo might be close to one sale every 3 hours despite the expected rates, and the star performers really average out to 1 an hour, they are just quiet about their off nights and loud about their hot streaks.

And the manager that gets the team to dig deeper, make that extra call? Incompetent, patting their own back for driving the sales rates up. This is bad writing but if they inspired the same levels of creativity running a restaurant, it would result in cooking cheaper meals with less staff and selling them at higher prices. Except in a restaurant the owner might stand a chance of walking in and seeing the ripped off and pissed off diners leaving the business with a sour look on their face.

In my experience no call center higher-ups ever look beyond the numbers, they don't call up someone who agreed to a sale and ask them 'did our representative properly identify themselves? Did the call take as long as they indicated? Were you aware it was a sales call in nature? etc.'

Strangely, the most recent time a charity mugger spoke to me, was while I was sitting in a public square sketching. I was semi-captive audience and she did the spiel and I tried to convey as honestly as possible that I didn't care. I actually recognised most of the sales techniques she used, they have names even though I'm sure most occur intuitively to people who try selling enough.

She embarked on attempting to make the sale (which is to say, commit to tithing my wages to a charity via direct debit) by saying she wanted my details for the purpose of her employers calling me to ask if she was professional and what not.

The one flaw in the system of collecting feedback, was that once I made it clear that I would not be donating any money, she crossed out the form and my details and chucked it.

These two industries are obvious examples of industries generating badwill, but I'm sure badwill is ubiquitous in a society that is consumed with doing more. My feeling is that at some point in the past 16 years the allegory (?) closest to most people's hearts is that of the two friends running from a bear, where one friend realises that they can't possibly outrun the bear and makes this point to their companion and the companion says 'I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you.'

When I think about it, I can't recall the context in which I first heard that allegory, I imagine it was a business context - but I'm not sure what the point of it is.

Because it's real subtext is to think of life as a survival game (which it is) but also a zero-sum game (which it isn't) and furthermore that the concept of success is engulfed by survival.

But when I think about the economy, it is kind of now this bear that needs to be fed. Reluctance to address systemic problems like climate change, diabetes etc. because those systems feed the economy. Successful industries are simply outrunning those their industry effects, polluters outrunning polynesians and coastal settlements, food manufacturers outrunning the people they feed. Sales companies outrunning their customers, sales managers outrunning their sales reps and so on.

In practice though, few of our transactions are life and death on the individual basis. I don't know what anyone else's life is like, but every day I see a fellow human being trying to outrun me so I'll be fed to the bear. It's nothing personal but I still think fuck you, especially when sprinting that hard isn't necessary for anyone's survival.

It's badwill.

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