No, Privilege Is Not Inspirational !

Privilege: a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.

We all know what "privilege" is, those of us who are not able to define it in words, have felt it or seen it at least once in their life, unless, of course, you are the privileged one, then chances are you think everybody has it easy the same way you do, and you feel like you should always tell people that their dreams at the grasp of their hand and all they need to do is reach out and grab them.

It's a fact of life that some of us are born having won the geographic lottery or the genetic lottery or just the plain old lottery and I am perfectly fine with that. After all, like the song goes: "it takes every kind of people, to make the world go around".
I come from a blue collar family, and while growing up, I did not need too much effort to quickly grasp the complex yet straightforward circumstances that made it easier for our more privileged peer to cruise all the way to success a highway paved just for them.
I even drew you a diagram if you are curious enough  (and if that still doesn't help here's an excellent illustration done by Toby Morris).

More recently, all I seem to see around me is a sprout of inspirational con artists shoveling so much bullshit down the throats of youth in an institutionalized manner under the guises of Entrepreneurship, Mentoring, Fast tracking, Accelerating and Incubating.

So here are a few things you need to keep in mind whenever you see a Linkedin/Facebook/Twitter (et al) posts inviting you to come get inspired by someone:

  • Most of the so-called successful (local) entrepreneurs you see around you come from wealthy and privileged families. They can afford to bootstrap their company while pursuing the "passion that makes them jump out of bed every morning" because their personal lives are secure in the knowledge that in the worst case scenario, family is going to bail them out.
  • The names you see on billboards of workshops often held on beanbags in venues intentionally made to look like shelters from the 1980s and promising insights into success are mostly 2nd or 3rd generation heirs to successful businesses. They will tell you perhaps what they do in their daily life to maintain their success but they can never tell you how to get there, simply because "there" is where they have always been.
  • The friendly patrons of young ideas that swarm the panels at all the regional conferences are simply businessmen. They may talk a sweet game and tell you all the things you want to hear but make no mistake they are here because they see an opportunity to grow their capital, that opportunity is you and your desire to pull in long hours for free. They could care less how their money doubles or how you repay that guaranteed loan if your business fails. So treat them as business partners not as Angels! #btw do you know who else started off as an angel?
  • When it comes to peers or youngsters from your same generation, who always brag about their first business they made and sold as a teenager and which was a blast, the rule of thumb here is this, if you have never heard of that company and how successful it was, then it was not. The cookie shop, the beads creations and the e-man2ouche are just adolescent dreams paid by mom and dad so you actually play entrepreneur instead of tennis (especially if you have zero game) and so you  don't get into trouble hanging with the wrong crowd in the real world.
No, privileged people flaunting their skills is not inspirational. What's inspirational are the various creative and ingenious ways that a manual laborer, a craftsman or a small-time shop owner can come up with to make ends meet, to pay for their kids' school, or to settle a tax imposed by a state, that much like all the organizers of all those conferences, only feels inspired by the achievements of the privileged while trampling on the average joe.

In the midst of all the self-congratulatory crowds who always hang out at the same events, all know each other, and all attribute prizes to each other, there is a very fine line that you need to walk where you balance your expectations with your income, your family situation and the desire you have deep down to change your current situation or simply... not.

Remember, you are not obliged to be a millionaire just because everyone says you do. You are not obliged to change the world because a picture of a blurred landscape with nice typography instructed you to do so.

 Your only obligation is to yourself, your only obligation is to be happy and content in the life you lead, in spite of all the naysayers and the yes-men, and to know that one day you can look back and say "screw that shit, this is just fine and I am feeling good"


GroupThink: It's Not You, It's Them!

Original Photo by David Pacey
I dare you, I double dare you...(no, not to "say What one more time") but to say that you were never coerced into agreeing with a decision that a group of friends or coworkers came up with, in spite of your reticence, just out of desire to fit in.

In these times where work ethics, and personal relationships have grown into a mushy pile of political correctness, touchy-feely soul-crunching-heart-wrenching "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" emotional sensitivity, the biggest victim to  such practices has been undoubtedly critical thinking.

A critical thinker in any entity or group is the thorn in the side of the applauding masses. In the quest for cohesiveness among groups in meetings, in decision making processes, or most business processes, people have simply chosen the easy way out by choosing to agree with the majority and shunning any disagreeing opinion as just not the right fit to the group, or the weird one, or the annoying one.

Those of you who are fans of classical movies can recognize this pattern of behavior in the iconic "12 Angry Men", where Henry Fonda's character raises the ire of his co-jurors for disagreeing with a fast"guilty" verdict which could cost a man his life. I highly recommend the film for its artistic value and for the takeaway it brings to this subject and will refrain from giving away any more details.

Located somewhere between Peer-Pressure and Dictatorship, GroupThink is defined as "a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome."

Interestingly enough, this opens up the door for unscrupulous manipulators who know their way around this phenomenon to position key players who would subscribe to their agenda and alter the collective consciousness of the others through passive intimidation.

So what happens exactly when, in a business context,  the primary goal of a group member becomes to achieve group satisfaction rather than to find a truly successful decision based on their own expertise and point of view?

Summary Illustration of GroupThink Dynamics

In a real life example from my various consultancy projects, someone in a position of power was systematically trying to introduce into their company, in various open vacancies, an array of people with whom he has personal ties. He had already a core team of "groupies" around him that bullied everyone else into signing up into their way of doing things (regardless of how correct or NOT it was).

The meetings I attended with these individuals were always plagued by the same pattern of behavior. The inner circle persons to this influential individual would always advance an idea or an agenda or a solution and the rest would systematically fall in line. While there might have been some debate and [constructive] discussions at first, as more groupies were added to the team, the dissenting opinions were less outspoken and tended to agree faster with all the nonsense advanced by the others.

Naturally, the quality of work suffered and was obvious in several key opportunities being lost. To an external observer this was an inescapable truth but to the applauding masses, everything was just peachy.

As these dynamics tend to destabilize work and create problems it's a must for oversight bodies and individuals such as the HR department, or a highly placed manager to detect such anomalies and introduce remedies that work aim to mitigate and eventually eliminate this tendency.

Dissenting opinions are not troublesome, they are a healthy to critical thinking, managers should be always willing to listen to these opinions regardless of who is advancing them. Even someone who is being negative because they are unhappy can bring about important wake-up calls to the sleep-walking corporate environment.
An idea would be to assign always in each project a devil's advocate whose job would be to poke holes at the presented idea. Such divergent thinking when incorporated into the companies processes and procedures allows for early trouble-shooting and anticipatory measures rather than after-the-fact fire-fighting.

So, if you occasionally [often] feel you are a nuisance to colleagues who all seems to flow in unique harmony [think The Blue Danube - 1939 MGM Cartoon ] simply because you present a different point of view, keep your chin up,  it's probably not you, it's them!


How Essential Is Employee Engagement For Your Brand?

On Friday, I was asked to tag along to visit several dealerships in a hunt for a new car. Having grown up around cars in my late father's car repair shop, my entourage believe that I bring added insight to the matter, a misconception I maintain thanks to Google and the internet.

When we set out on our grand tour, my companion told me beforehand which brand dealerships they had visited and which car had ranked more points in in the quest for it to be The One.

As we hopped from one dealership to another, met with their salespeople, discussed the various vehicles specs and budgets and eventually had our own post review discussion, it dawned on me that there was a close correlation between some specific wording used by the salespeople and how we perceived the brand from our angle as customers.
Out of 5 dealerships we visited I noticed the following:

  • 3 dealerships left us unimpressed, one of which was completely unpleasant
  • 2 dealerships were great, one of which was really excellent.

I am not going to mention which is which because this is not the point of this piece and because there are enough people on blogs whoring themselves out to brands. What I will mention though is the common denominator among the 3 dealerships which offered the most disappointing experience. During our visit to each of those, we naturally asked a lot of questions about the exhibited vehicles, their features, the lack of certain options and models and whether they might be bringing those into the local market. In retrospect, I noticed that in each case the salesperson would refer to his own dealership  as "they". To be clear, they did not refer to the brand but to the local dealership (management)
  • They chose not to include these options in the car
  • They chose not to bring this model to Lebanon
  • They decided to raise the price
  • They prefer not to sell this...

This was aggravated by a more detached body language that made us feel that the salespeople just wanted to be done with answering the questions in order to go take a break.
Compared to the two locations where we had a good experience, this inferred a major disconnect between management and its employees. In both locations that made it to the final selection lists, salespeople distinguished themselves by:
  • A more upbeat demeanor: they would immediately notice a new client walking in, greet promptly and engage in helpful but non intrusive discussion.
  • They ALWAYS talked about their offerings and vehicles by using "WE":
    • We have the best rated vehicles
    • We have superior after sales
    • We have the best deal in this range of vehicles
This forced me to do some introspection about my own behavior in various instances of jobs, associations and activities that I had been a part of. I can safely say that the correlation applied also to me.  The best example I can give is my past experience in the Telecom sector:
  • While working with Cellis (FTML) one of the first two mobile operators in Lebanon, my speech always used the "We" form.
  • When Cellis was substituted by what is now Alfa and the plethora of companies that have subsequently managed this brand name ("managed" being an overstatement here), myself and several of my colleagues drifted slowly but surely to using "They" when referring to the company even while we still worked there.
In essence, no matter how deep business owners, management teams or any person in charge of  brands choose to bury their heads in the sands of "employees are here to slave for me", at some point they need to wake up to the smell of disgruntled staff passively sabotaging the business just by their demeanor and body language (to begin with).
The only time a business can carry on not giving a damn about it's employees and not suffer the consequences is when it is monopolizing a sector (and we know all about that in Lebanon).

It goes beyond any doubt that whatever you seed internally in terms of employee engagement will surely trickle down to you customers. It won't matter how many discounts you do, how many offers you release, your brand will be always associated with the resentment emanating from your customer-facing staff.
Good luck getting rid of that stench!


They watched an Andes Beer ad, you'll never know what they did next...

First of all apologies for the clickbait title...but I found it very ironic and innocuous to use, compared to what  happened to the Andes Beer ads here below.

One upon a time, there was this excellent beer brand out of Argentina called Andes beer.
They were famous for groundbreaking ads like the "TeleTransporter", The Female Name Tornadoes, The Fairest night... but their best ads and my favorites are by far the "Lost" ads or Decubiados.

source: www.andes.com.ar

The ads, designed to promote the new can and stickers on the bottles that change color when the beer is at the optimal temperature for drinking, were done in an amazingly funny and dark humor twist, showing friends or loved ones in very delicate situations acting insensitively towards their friends who are suffering. The voice at the end comes out with a very serious and deep tone to declare:
"If you don't know when is the right time to drink a beer, we are going to tell you"

I'll let you watch it for yourself:

I made it a purpose to show this to each and every person whom I had known to be in the ad industry or an ad lover. I enjoyed the brilliance of these ads and wanted to share it with as many people possible....until the day where I saw these pathetic examples of advertising soiling our screens.

I can only imagine what happened because I have a vivid imagination, but the public will never know the beauty of the original ads, just the silly stereotypical "men are from mars women are from venus" lame attempt at humor without any point behind it.
You can watch them below and admire the voiceover work that attempts to mimic the same tone in the original ads...

It starts off bad

Gets worse afterwards

Turns to boring

Ends up totally lame

So now you know what they did next...


If Magazine Covers Were Honest

I almost never buy any magazines, aside from the Smash Hits & Photos magazines I bought as a teenager, my only encounters with magazines are at doctors' clinics and when they run TV ads citing their headlines. This has not stopped me from being highly admirative of the amount of bullshit that these magazines can dish out, especially in their titles a.k.a the ancestors of clickbait.

I conceived this cover a couple of days ago as an attempt at satire, based on first-hand experienc with the topics I chose to highlight. Many people picked-up on the gest of it but others were not on the same frequency and asked me to explain. So here goes nothing:

Mashrou' Leila: This highly overrated and barely audible Lebanese band rose to international fame by using the openly gay card of their lead singer, thus creating controversy in a region not receptive to such a public declaration. Their die hard fans usually accuse their critics of being homophobic to suppress the fact that their sound closely resembles that of a squeaking door.

Facebook Posts: In these tumultuous times that we live in, where the world seems to implode on itself, with a war raging next door, refugees flooding the country and other continents, and a general malaise swarming up globally, one cannot escape the numerous "humanitarian" status updates by individuals who claim to support or defend a good cause but who in fact use a passive-aggressive approach to advance their political views at the expense of those who are actually suffering.

Freebies: I don't need to explain this much, as it's become public knowledge the amount of bloggers who just echo promo material offered by brands or agencies. Some of them still hide behind their finger (ironically so), others are just outright shameless about it. Of course it's fine if a blogger monetizes their presence, just make sure you still offer valuable content not just act as a billboard, because we're on to you...yes, you...you know who you are!

Brexit Nightlife: That's basically putting a buzzword which is trending now (Brexit) with another buzzword which seems the only thing going for us in Lebanon since the end of the civil war. Who would not want to know more how a Brexit is going to help the Lebanese nightlife? Woohoo Lebanese F***ing Joie de Vivre baby!

So folks, scurry along now and don't forget to pick up your edition before it runs out...it's selling like hotcakes!

Links to the original posts: