Marketing, Minneapolis, Music & More

Bait and Switch: Tired and Frustrating

This weekend, my credit card company Capital One pulled the old bait and switch routine.  Essentially this is advertising something at what is perceived as a very good deal, then switching to something else that is less desirable for the buyer.

It’s a common tactic in retail and online selling.  ”iPads sold for only $10.77!”, “$39 for a trip to Mexico!” etc.  Sound familiar?  Should you have spent any of the last decade not living under a rock, you’re probably familiar with them.  Hopefully you’ve learned that most anything that looks too good to be true, is.

I realized the other day I had a $59 charge for a membership fee with Capital One.  This had never been present before, in roughly four years of using the card.  It is possible that this fee happened in prior years, but doubtful as I monitor my finances weekly and often more so.

The very reason I chose this card initially were the perks associated:  two travel miles for every dollar spent, no annual fee, as well as some additional things that weren’t high on my radar.  Those two were enough.  The idea is to use your card to pay for normal expenses and redeem accrued miles for vacation trips, etc.  It’s a nice bonus.

However the existence of a membership fee significantly discounts the value of the perks.  $59 in fee equates to 5,900 miles, which is slightly less than $3,000 spent on the card.  That is not a huge amount to spend on a credit card in a year, but that’s really not the point.  The point is that the card was advertised as no annual fee.

Large companies such as this will send you new terms of service in the mail and expect that you read through all of it.  My assumption is that 90%+ (including myself) do not bother with these kinds letters as they are cumbersome and often in legalese.  A lawyer would tell you that it’s the company right to change terms of service, and technically it is.

A marketer will tell you that this is abusing the relationship you’ve spent so much time to develop in the first place.  And that you’ll lose the customer for doing so.

Companies want profits.  They build their market offerings to reflect that need for profits.  Initially to capture a customer, they will build something like the credit card offer above, which is enticing.  At later dates, they may change the offer to optimize profit, e.g. new annual fee.

Credit card companies already make a good deal of money by me actually using them as a method of payment.  Every time I swipe the card, the place I buy from pays a small amount for the ability to use them.  They also make money on other partnerships, and large amounts on interest of employed capital.

I understand the ongoing need for growth.  Situations like this are based on asymmetricity between wanting financial gains and integrity between the relationship with a company and customer.  This is the bait and switch.

Long story short, Capital One refunded my fee as a one time courtesy.  They were actually quite kind on the phone, but acted as though the situation was one where I was confused.  This wasn’t a confusing situation, it was one where a large company change TOS to garner additional profits and sacrificed a relationship to do so.

At this point, I’m unsure whether to get a new card or not.  I have a year to decide if it’s worth the $3,000 per year spent or not. There are other options, probably better ones.  I will definitely evaluate them.

Net net: Capital One had a great customer relationship with me before this, but is now at risk of losing me due to the bait and switch.  That risk was avoidable.

What’s In A Name?

Many things.  Time, effort and importance.

The biggest reason to name something is so that people understand it has a name.

Naming something makes it worth discussing formally, which in turn takes time and effort.

Naming something well will define it as an idea.

Because naming something poorly means it will be forgotten or disregarded if not an inherently strong concept.

Annual Reviews: A Flawed Concept

This and last week were those of annual reviews.  Most organizations do these kinds of things in order to review a person’s performance.  It’s one of those things that has been done for a long time and correspondingly will continue to be done for a long time.

Large organizations do them for a few reasons, the main being a fail safe for having to fire people.  This is absolutely necessary from a legal perspective, however firing people shouldn’t be done annually, it should be done as necessary when someone isn’t doing a good job.  Often the annual review provides a time to set a limitation on the poor behavior and then axe the miscreant in question at a (sooner) later date.  Good stuff!  In all seriousness, this is actually a good part of annual reviews, there are poor performers out there, and it probably isn’t the right role for them.

Other things happen in larger organizations–raises, promotions, new opportunities.  Lots of good things there.  Again, these are not necessarily activities that should happen annually but there is a tendency for that time frame to work.  People doing well should be rewarded to continue their positive output for an organization.

Smaller organizations, from what I can tell, do these annualized reviews because they seem like a good thing to be doing.  The big guys do.  People need to get some feedback on what they’re doing, so why not an annual review?  At first glance this makes sense but there are a lot of reasons to aim higher.

One of the big issues with annual reviews is the time gap between performance appraisals.  One year in business time is a HUGE parcel on the space time continuum.  SO MUCH changes in that time that it’s difficult to recall if you’ve done well against stated objectives (which hopefully the organization has) or if the scope/expectation changed so much that it seems like the performer didn’t live up to what was agreed upon.  Often this is not an issue, due to the general knowledge within the group in question, e.g. the boss was the boss same time last year and realizes what’s going on.

But many times, that’s not the case.  Misalignment between previous goals and what’s actually important now reflects poorly, or indifferently, on a person’s output.  This happens for all kinds of reasons:  a new general manager dictates a different direction, a competitor launches something that alters a market enough that the organization must realign resources, a key team member leaves, etc.  The only thing that stays the same is change, and it’s reflected in annual reviews.

Solving the time frame thing is relatively easy.  Start doing smaller increments (semi annual seems about right.)

Solving human nature is nigh impossible.

Great managers understand that their job is to motivate and get the absolute best out of employees.  Their best.  That’s an important idea here, because what actually is their best may well deviate significantly from what the manager considers their best, if they subscribe to this ideology.

Humans are flawed in many ways.  Perspectives on someone’s ability or ceiling or best work is subjective.  And although we mean the best, as managers, we have a tendency to try to “fix” the things we see in others.  Often these perceived areas for fixing are simple differences in the way we do things.  It is in this way that organizations largely become mirror entities of the people that run them, as they continually project their work values to their direct reports, which cycle downward.  This is not inherently bad, there’s a good reason so many large organizations benefit from leadership that does this.  Yet it is intrinsically biased and many managers may miss the boat on valuable skill sets that aren’t in line with their own work style.

Good managers realize their biases and attempt to work around them using tools like 360 feedback and personality testing, but these also miss the mark for many people.  360 feedback can often have rose colored glasses as people seek to stay away from tough conversations for fear of repercussion.  Personality tests, though scientifically viable depending on the tool, do not necessarily provide strategies to improve work flow so much as state a person’s tendencies.

The bottom line is that reviews as a whole are tough.  Promotions and the like are easy, but tough conversations are not.  Having those conversations in a perennial, stress inducing, work load heavy format is much worse.  This goes without stating the fact that they are a lot of work, for managers with a great deal of direct reports, it is very cumbersome.  And, dirty little secret, most managers make the direct report write it up anyway, then edit it as they see fit.

So at the end of the day we’re left with a bloated process that tends to focus on the negative, takes a great deal of time and effort and is not uncommonly missing information due to dated expectations.  It may well be better than nothing, but there is undoubtedly a better way to approach assessment at work.

Dune

DuneI began reading Dune while in Belize.  It is an epic tale of a prescient son who would become leader of a foreign sand planet, Arrakis (or Dune, to outsiders.)

The characters and ideas presented in this book are very unique.  It covers off on the interesting side of interplanetary economics, biology and science.  It adds in a great deal of action and cultural inference that other science fiction books don’t necessarily cover off on too.  There’s a lot to like with this book.

It is, however, not an easy read.  It is lengthy and if you aren’t engaged by this kind of content (it was newer to me) it would be difficult to get through all of it.  I read the first half of the book quite quickly and then slowed a great deal on the latter half.

There are many other books in the series, of which at some point I’ll likely partake.  At this point however, I’m back into reading Thoreau’s Walden, and at what a fantastic time!  Spring is upon us, despite today’s poor weather, and there is nothing so blooming eternal as Spring.

I would recommend Dune to others who enjoy science fiction, and especially intergalactic tales, but it should be taken on with the knowledge that it is deep in scope…and reward.

Stalemate

Winter has dragged.  I haven’t written in some time and, well, if you pay any attention to this you’d know that.  And any is more than what I’m willing to donate, evidently.  A sad drudgery, that.  Yet there is hope, spring blooms eternal and something of that natural call.

Not certain what to make of all of it, actually.  It happens every year, but this year is new, of course.  So I’m left at odds, even now.  All the best.

Astute or Honest? To Be or Be Not.

Politically astute is a common phrase.  You hear it often in business and government.  Essentially it means to be adept at understanding situations and people and turn them to your own advantage.

At face value that sounds like something everyone would aspire to.  Why wouldn’t you want to turn a situation to your advantage?

Ultimately turning a situation to your own advantage often means turning it against others.  This is the guiding principle of a zero sum game, there are only so many spoils and as such all players are playing for themselves.

To put this into context, you can consider businesses or objectives of a government.  In business there are only so many people who can buy in a market.  If that number of buyers is limited, and it always is, the amount any one business can make is limited as well, which builds competition between companies offering similar products or services that meet the needs of the buyers.  That ongoing competition is the “invisible hand” coined by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations which regulates markets on it’s own due to people voting with their dollars.

So inherently in that situation you see organizations attempting to be astute to the needs of the market and nimble enough to meet them.  Sometimes they will attempt to dictate standards in the market or create problems in order to solve them, among hundreds of other things.

On a more micro level, within organizations of all kinds including government, there are individuals who are looking to improve their own position.  It’s very normal for most humans to strive for higher rungs on Maslow’s hierarchy and today that manifests in all sorts of competition within organizations, most of it perfectly moral and some less scrupulous.

Being politically astute is about understanding the environment and people within and acting in such a way that benefits yourself.  The term “political” isn’t necessarily a bad one in and of itself, however in today’s world it has a negative connotation with many people.  It’s viewed as not being trustworthy and to be completely honest I think some politicians aren’t worth trusting.  In fact, there are probably many.

A question exists:  should we be astute and look to improve our lot?  Or should we be honest?  Here’s a tweet from the other day, thinking about the topic.

Inline image 2

Many people are distrustful of marketers too.  The reason is words like “position” in that sentence.  What I mean by that is to be honest without offending anyone.  ”Politically correct” or “PC” often gets thrown around similarly, meaning to state things in a way that is acceptable to everyone and not offensive.

Being astute isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  However the line gets blurry when agency problems arise and make your actions less about achieving a common good or objective of your employer or organization and more about personal betterment.  In the long term what you achieve is far more important than your rank and status.

To be honest is a very difficult thing to do.  It comes naturally to you, yet society trains you to act otherwise.  And that training continues in forums where peers and leadership encourage unscrupulous or dishonest behavior by engaging in it themselves or rewarding it.

Focus on what you are trying to accomplish, be honest and kind while standing up for what you believe.  Everything else will take care of itself.

Lack of Cogency

In the last six months or so, it’s struck me how few new ideas or thought patterns have been developing in my head.  I’ve got it narrowed down to a few reasons:

1.  Work.  Being busy and having a lot to do are a constant, but there is more to this.  There is a ceiling on thought processes when you are employed, and although I can’t fully comprehend that, partly due to being employed (thankfully of course), it is important.  I’ll expound on this below.
This, to a certain extent, is groupthink.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just is.  But it exists.  And it is a good reason to have misalignment between people and institutions, when possible.
This, to a certain extent, is groupthink.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just is.  But it exists.  And it is a good reason to have misalignment between people and institutions, when possible.

2.  Winter.  Winter sucks after two months or so.  It keeps you inside.  When I’m outside in fresh air with the sun warming me, it feels free.  It promotes imagination and free thought.  Right now it is dreary and cold.  Being inside consistently breeds routine, which I’m normally not critical of, but some routines need breaking — and my work/videogame/exercise/sleep repeat routine is getting a bit stagnant.  Time to break out!  Maybe this weekend.

3.  Redundancy.  Mentally, you need challenges to think critically and outside of the normal guardrails.  These kinds of challenges come mostly from other people in the form of verbal or written communication in most instances.  That’s why reading philosophers is such a great thing to do.  It challenges you mentally to understand the constructs and process them, which opens to lanes of thought outside your own.  Perhaps you are smart enough to develop unknown constructs yourself.

In a follow up to how slow the trickle has been, here is an unfinished thought process that have been rattling around in my brain, but I’ve lacked the wherewithal to finalize.  This is all very unfiltered and probably not great stuff, but I’d rather publish it now and reread it when some cogent thought process does take hold again.

Free Thought

Being free to think and express creativity means a great deal.  Especially to those who need that freedom in order to perform at peak levels.  Often times, those people who are unable to freely assess situations are not cognizant of the restrictions that are already constraining their thoughts.  Every time, in fact.  Even now, in writing this, my patterns of thought and ability to express myself honestly is hindered due to any number of things I cannot fully comprehend currently.

These invisible constraints are there, out of sight and mind to my person, but perhaps not to others who have transcended them philosophically or morally, or experientially.  The blind spots are not necessarily fewer and fewer while scaling a pyramid, but lesser and more while travelling a valley.  Perspectives become skewed in different areas and clarity of one direction may alleviate after walking some distance, only to find new obstructions providing shade.  At times that shade is comforting, while at others it may chill you to the bone and cause you to run for the warmth of light.

Yet we are cognizant of some of the hindrances to free thought.  Our choices of where we live, what we do, who we associate with, how we work and what we do are artificial constraints on thought in some form or facet.  The need to continually maintain these decisions in terms of time will ultimately result in less freedom of thought.

Humans are naturally biased to appreciate their associations.  Many of these associations provide them with their livelihoods or relationships and as such are to an extent all encompassing of their very consciousness and being.  But there is a rub.  Our thoughts will constantly be dictated by the ramifications on those around us, and the reflective ramifications on our persons.

Tough Times for Minnesotans

It’s that time of year again.  Year after year, the tiresome inevitability of winter hits right around now.

People are grumpy.  Everything that irks you normally is just a little bit more annoying.

If you speak with most Minnesotans the first week of February, most of us are in a sour mood.  We’re tired of being cold and than punk Puxatawny Phil ain’t doing us any favors either.  Nice hat, by the way.

It’s all mental though.  And we know it.  The bottom line is that these last two months of winter are the hardest.  The first two are actually pretty nice.  November and December bring on the first snows and weather, but holidays are right there….so you are looking forward to it.

Many folks take a vacation right now.  That’s a smart move.  It gets you out of the weather for a little while and is perfectly timed to help you get through.  The rest of us are a bit disillusioned with our life choices for a few more weeks.

You might be thinking, “wait a second, you just took a vacation a month ago!” and you’re right.  I shouldn’t be complaining.  But I recognize the precarious nature of our esteem during these times and it merits mention.  It’s all mind state, and you CAN have good days at this point in the year.

Best Music of 2013

I did not listen to as many albums this last year as normal.  My guess is that I purchased roughly 60-70% as many albums, which is odd as I didn’t set out too.  Part of it is the fact that many of the bands I listen to didn’t have new stuff dropping, part of it is that I’m just busier.  Putting together top tens is actually getting harder and that’s not a good thing.  Hopefully it doesn’t become any worse or I may have to go to a top five!

Honorable mentions are Silversun Pickups — Carnivas, Alt J — An Awesome Wave

Regardless here are my picks for last year in order of good to goodest:

Beirut: Rip Tide

I’ve listened to Beirut off and on for some time.  A few people who listen to really good music have recommended his work and I picked up the Gulag Orkestar some time back, but that album was too hit and miss.  It’s odd because it’s a very interesting album musically that relies on pulling things together with heavy drum Eastern European themes which are cool, but it made the album too hard to listen to.  The Rip Tide is much more cohesive and ultimately has more songs with lyrics which make it more valuable for me personally.  You can easily see Zach Condon growing and realize his potential.  He already has his own sound and seems unafraid to tread new waters.

Nirvana: Unplugged in New York

Yes, this album is 20 years old.  But it’s one of the best live albums of all time.  And it covers songs in a way that Nirvana never really approached in the studio on major releases.  It’s cohesive, melancholy and a great encapsulation of a tortured soul at his creative peak.  It’s as sad sort, at this point, realizing that Kurt could and would have done so many great things out side of grunge, but it also provides a swan song for his impeccable talent.  RIP.

Front Bottoms: Talon of the Hawk

New Jersey based Front Bottoms put out fantastic high energy indie rock.  Their songs are pretty simple and straight forward, with many sounding somewhat similar, yet their album is always fun to listen to and has a ton of energy.  They are a fun band to sing along with and get weird looks from other drivers, if you’re into that (and I am.)  The lead singer has an interesting voice and honest song writing that matches their simplicity in a very positive manner.  Recommended for people who like guitar rock and loud music.

Andrew Jackson Jihad: People That Can Eat People Are the Luckiest People in the World

From Arizona, AJJ are a quirky folk indie acoustic outfit that put out fast paced heart on their sleeve songs that both question our morals and bluntly examine human nature.  This is truly a unique band and awesome music for those unafraid to venture off the beaten path.

Volcano Choir: Repave

Justin Vernon’s other project put out an amazing LP, even if it’s only seven songs.  It clocks in at a good time.  Teresa complains that this album makes her sleepy, and I’ll agree that it is a slower pace.  It’s my favorite album to play on weekend mornings to relax to.  Pick this up if you like any of Bon Iver’s work or need an intro to Vernon at all.

Bob Marley: Songs of Freedom

Bob Marley is a legend for good reason.  While I was travelling in New Zealand in Wanaka, I heard much of his music outside of his Legend LP which is very common and it was all great.  Marley has so much music that is so fitting for any time or place.  You hear it all over the world, including in Belize on all the islands and coast lines.  This box set is a fantastic addition to any library and goes high wide and deep throughout his career.  I wake up to this music every day and it puts me in the right mood to get going.

Middle Brother: Self Titled

Fans of Deer Tick must pick up this album, and if you are not a fan of the beer and sweat sound of Deer Tick, I feel for you.  This is a super group with three members from Dawes, Deer Tick and Atlas Genius.  This is a great folk focused album with a lot of different sounds, but altogether sounds cohesive and well written.  Listen to the title track for a good representation of their faster paced sound.

Eminem: Marshal Mathers LP2

This isn’t really a popular pick.  Well not for me anyway.  Most “main stream” tunes don’t make it on my radar, and Em is definitively main stream at this point.  You could argue he’s as main stream as any recording artist.  And in all truth, I don’t really like hip hop that uses female vocalists for hooks most of the time.  I like hip hop with raw gritty sounds and intelligent lyrics.  Em doesn’t do a lot of the former, but he slaughters rappers on the latter.  Simply put he’s absolutely in the discussion of best rapper of all time.  He’s a menace.  And no one wants anything to do with him in the game outside of collaboration, he’s ended the careers of many people already.

Technically speaking, Marshal Mathers sets the bar(s).  This album is stacked.  Get the extended version as the additional tracks could easily be first cut (especially Ground Hog Day.)  Though his lyrics are often outside of acceptable for man, especially the misogynistic and homophobic appearing lines (he’s addressed this many times and I won’t dig into it) — his technical ability is on a level very few can say they’ve done.  I think his ability is still at a peak, but the culture surrounding pop hip hop has changed and he may be a half step behind where he was a few albums back, but this is an album I’ve listened to tens of times now and there are many more spins to come.

Tokyo Police Club: Elephant Shell/A Lesson In Crime

I had purchased their last album a few years back and really enjoyed it.  I had meant to go back and pick up their earlier stuff, but didn’t do it for some odd reason.  Then during the mid point of this year there was a lull in good sounds for me, so I picked up their first two releases.  I was shocked.  These albums were even better than their last.

The reason is that they are more raw and energetic, with lots of differing sounds and a lot of sing along chants/chorus.  That sounds good in rock and they do it extremely well on these two albums.  I’ve already written about them on this blog so won’t waste any more time on it, pick them up.

father-john-misty-album-review

Father John Misty: Fear Fun

I’d never listened to Joshua Tillman before picking up this release.  He’s been around the block and actually did a stint with the Fleet Foxes for a small amount of time before rededicating himself to his solo stuff.

It took me a few listens to start enjoying this album, but once it grabs you it will not let go.  Father John starts the album with a slow and steady Fun Times in Babylon.  From their the album continues to go in and out with great songs like Nancy From Now On, Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings, Ladies Man and more.  The album is eccentric, being written after a drug induced bender which illustrates the advancement of all things in time and space during his time in Southern California.

It’s amazing.  It’s well thought out and there are so many good songs that if you haven’t heard it, it will take you weeks to really grasp the levity of the album.  It may take some time to sink in, but when it does, you’ll be far better off for it.

Resolutions for 2014

At the start of every year I like to set goals and reflect on what was accomplished.  Here’s what I had set as an objective last year:

1.  Buy a House. It’s time for Teresa and I to get a permanent address in South Minneapolis (hopefully.)  We will start the formal process of getting a lone and looking at houses pretty soon after getting back and can formally move as early as March, though we have a window of 8-10 months to find something we like.  This is a big step and something we’ve been thinking about a long time.  I’m excited about it.  When we do get a house, I’m hoping to get another dog, similar to Stella but with a different color.  We have a list of things we need in a house, and a fenced yard is one, which would help with the said new puppy.

2.  Pay off XX,000 in Student Loans off. I’m not quantifying this as it’s really not that important for others to understand just how much cash goes to it, just know it’s a lot of money.  I have a big amount out in loans and you’d flip your wig to see how much interest in generates.  They are 8% interest!  Most people I tell that reply with something to the effect of “WHAT?  That’s near criminal!”  Bad timing I suppose, but that’s what federal loan rates were when I went back.  Regardless, the faster it’s paid off the faster I can invest in other things, so the next few years those loans will be a big target.

3.  Lose 10 lb. and end 2013 in the 160-165lb. range. This was definitely one of my resolutions for 2012, and honestly I think I did pretty decently.  I lost 10 lbs and am roughly 173-175lb on any given day.   Losing weight is not easy.  But I’ve had a big swap of fat for muscle and look better by far than I did before starting the regimen.  A big part of this goal will be to alter my eating habits.  That’s always my albatross, but after getting home it will start.  Lots of lean meats, beans, apples and other fruits combined with a good exercise regimen.  As part of this goal I’ll also be looking into a new physical activity to combine with normal gym routines.  More to come on that, but I’m not sure what I’ll do as of yet.

In terms of progress, numero uno is signed sealed and delivered.  We have a great house in Bloomington that’s big enough to live in for a looooong time, should we choose to.  Regarding number two, I didn’t state precisely how much to pay off as a target, but it was a good size number and I also paid off slightly more than my objective.

The last goal was where I fell short.  Although I’ve made significant progress, I am still roughly 170 lbs.  That may not sound significant, but the amount of exercise and change in types of exercise feels like a win.  A lot more squats and core work, as well as a fundamental shift in how many calories I’m intaking has been a big improvement.  Also just being more aware of health and how decisions affect it in an ongoing manner is valuable.

Regarding this year, my objectives are more of the same:

1.  Pay off XX,000 in Student Loans off. Again no need to go into specifics as finances aren’t important in terms of actual amounts, but it does require discipline and a consistent effort to not spend too much on frivolous things.

2.  Save More Discretionary Income for Long Term Finances. Being an adult is pretty boring when it comes down to it.  You have to think long term and be conservative in order to make sure you can take care of yourself and family.  That’s what this goal is about.  I’d like to start purchasing stock from the company I work for (a great organization to say the least), put away money in a Roth IRA for both 2013 and 2014, as well as build up our emergency funds.  This is a lot of saving, but can be done if approached diligently.

3.  Lose another 5-8lb. and end 2014 in the 160-165lb. range. If it takes two years, I still got there, right?  :-)

4.  Take a few trips with Teresa to places we haven’t been to before. This is a bit contrary to my other goals as it takes money to travel, but there’s also a time/ability factor to travel.  If we want to have kids, trips are harder to organize and there are only so many years you have to do so.  Nobody on their death bed says, I wish I would have travelled less and spent more time at work.  Breaking away from work is harder and harder for me, so that makes this a very real goal.

Many people set goals for a new year and I’m no different.  What many people don’t do is write them down and then hold themselves accountable.  These goals are actually pretty simple, but they require spending time every day and approaching them consistently to achieve.  I find that writing them down makes me feel more accountable — it works for me and it might for you too.

I still would like to get a best of music post out for last year, hopefully I will do that soon.

All the best to you and your family this year!  Best of luck on your aspirations — I’ll leave you with a quote from Walden, my favorite book:

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams!  Live the life you’ve imagined.”

  • Fairly Recently…

  • Way Back When…

  • Categorically Speaking...

  • Meta

  • What’s Up Doc?

    April 2014
    M T W T F S S
    « Mar    
     123456
    78910111213
    14151617181920
    21222324252627
    282930