Who do you blame?

 “If we fail, it would be only our fault,” said an engineer in Tripoli quoted by Reuters. “Before we blamed everything on Gaddafi, it was easy. Now we can only blame ourselves.”

 When someone else is calling the shots there is an element of freedom in the repression.  Freedom to blame someone else for your troubles. And the more iron-fisted the control is, the more excuses you have for your own predicament—the more it’s someone else’s fault. It’s even more convenient if that someone is on posters, TV, or represented by statues. The name for your pain becomes ubiquitous.

 Not everyone in the world can blame a dictator or monarch for their misfortune or lack of success, though. But many have a radio show host or political figure-du jour that fits the bill. And others choose to fill this role with vengeful bosses, overbearing spouses, or controlling parents or in-laws. Not to mention the looming specter of corporations, government, or religion. There’s no shortage of people or organizations to lay blame, and we can usually find like-minded confidants to share in our woe.

That’s because complaining is easy. it’s not easy to take stock of ourselves and take the action necessary to remedy the shortcomings that hold us back. It’s not easy to topple those statues we love to point our fingers at. But it’s something that everyone can do if they choose. As Teddy Roosevelt said, “If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”

So declare your own little revolution, throw some ropes around whatever it is you’ve been blaming, and topple it once and for all.

Business Lessons from “Pawn Stars”

Negotiation is a cornerstone of business, and like business, it’s an ancient art. There are many books on the subject, from Robert Cialdini’s Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion to Trump’s Art of the Deal. But while watching the History Channel I realized that some key business essentials can be gleaned from the show, “Pawn Stars.”

In the program, a Las Vegas pawn shop is run by a cast of colorful characters including a curmudgeonly “Old Man,” his affable son Rick, and his rebellious grandson “Big Hoss.” The show incorporates a blend of historical insight, humor, and good old fashioned business wheeling and dealing.

Here are some takeaways:

Start with a firm number, not a “hope.” If you are interested in selling something, and asked for your price, don’t say, “Well I was hoping to get $5,000.” No one cares what you are hoping for, and right then and there they know to stick a pin in your balloon of hope and hit you with a lower offer.

Know all you can about a situation. These days there’s no excuse not to run a search on the item you want to sell (or buy) and the people or organization you’ll be dealing with. I’m amazed to watch people walk into the pawn shop without knowing anything about what they want to sell or what it might be worth. P.T. Barnum had a word for people like that and how there’s one born every minute.

Don’t be wishy-washy. Often, sellers on the show say they are “looking to get $400 or $500” for their flea market find. If you say that then the $500 is immediately off the table because you’ve already negotiated with the other side by saying you’re open to $400. Don’t let the other guy help you decide where to start a deal.

Remove emotional attachment. Do you want to sell something or not? Once you have decided to sell then you have moved into the realm of a business transaction, and any sentimental value the item has to you will be irrelevant to the buyer. (“Well, you know, my grandmother used to keep this in her kitchen…”)

Always be ready to walk away from a deal. The Pawn Stars guys regularly turn down unique, cool items not because they don’t like them, but because acquiring them makes no business sense.

Know your business. Business owners can only stay in the black if they can readily sell an item for more than they bought it. If they can’t do this they can’t buy your item no matter what you think it’s worth. Whenever they deviate from their core business and think they can invest more money in an item to fix it up, they increase the risk of losing money.

Retain SMEs (Subject Matter Experts). For Rick and his crew, the job is to run a pawn shop, not to be be experts on esoteric obscure objects of historical interest. That’s why they are quick to call in experts on vintage guitars, toys, currency, or antique weapons. Build your own network of subject matter experts you can call on, legal, tax, sales, marketing, real estate.

Finally…Never underestimate the power of a good poker face.


The Man in the Arena

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

–Theodore Roosevelt from the speech, “Citizenship In A Republic”, delivered in Paris on April 23, 1910

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