Ask yourself this question, “What do employers owe the people they do not hire?” I asked myself that question more than a decade ago and it changed my life forever.

On Sunday, January 18, 2004, I ran a help-wanted ad in the New York Times that read in its entirety, “Programmer – Will train, enjoyment of mathematics a plus” followed by an email address. I was heading a statistical arbitrage trading desk and I needed help maintaining all the code I’d written.

OpenHouse07

I was surprised to get more than 300 resumes and because nobody had experience in the language we use (APL), and I could not gauge learning potential from a resume, I sent everyone a link to a 500 pages manual (latest version available here), and I suggested applicants try their hand at a half-dozen puzzle questions they could easily answer in this language.

Thirty-eight people answered the questions so I invited them in for an open house. I had them sit on our trading floor for a bit where they played a game I’d written called BF Game that simulated an information market. We talked about the technology and the nature of our work and then I asked them what I thought I should do next.

Classroom1Twenty-seven of the applicants suggested I teach them all first and then make a hiring decision, so I ordered tables and chairs, that arrived the next day and the day after that we built a classroom.

A friend  gave them two days of formal training in APL and then I left them alone for three weeks with some pretty difficult problems such as the automation investment, liquidation, and index arbitrage strategies in BF Game and the creation of a Bayesian statistical technique for analyzing the words in Tom Sawyer so as to calculate a probability that a given passage comes from Huckleberry Finn.

Within a week they’d created an on-line community on Yahoo with 73 members who volunteered to help them with their project including an out-sourcing company in St. Petersburg (Russia) that sent all their training

Continue reading »

 

In every job that must be done there is an element of fun.

Over Super Bowl Weekend (Feb 1-2) some friends and I will be attending an Education Start-UP Weekend to develop tools that will help people bring more fun to work.

WE NEED YOUR HELP.

Here is how you can help us:

1) Tell us your stories: How did you or someone you know make an onerous task more fun? How do you teach others to do the same thing?

2) Tell us your needs: How could your work be more fun?

3) Tell us your ideas:  How could employers make work more fun? How can employees do the same? How can job hunting be more fun?

4) Tell us how to help you: Our goal is to create something you can use whether you are doing work, looking for it, or managing others. Tell us how we can contact you when we have something to give you.

Noel Coward thought work is more fun than fun.WHY THE URGENCY?

At Start-UP Weekend events you are only given from Friday night at 6:30 until early morning on Sunday to come up with an idea, implement it, and launch it into the world. Early afternoon on Sunday we will need to present our project to a panel of judges.

Although we appreciate your ideas no matter when you submit them, if you can get them to us by 6PM on Saturday, Feb 1, 2014 then we can include them in our project.

WRITE TO ME NOW

Please write to me with your ideas right away: Brooke@BrookeAllen.com

 

 

 

Woman in Mirror by Dennis Brekke - creatie commonsResearchers have shown that it if you want to do something it is better to
ask yourself questions rather than to tell yourself things.

Ask, don’t tell

by Brooke Allen

If you want to exercise today then it is not a good idea to get up in the morning and say, “I will exercise today.” This tells your unconscious that the issue is settled so there is nothing to do. Of course, as you go to bed you might say, “Gee… I forgot all about exercising.”

Instead, ask yourself, “Will I exercise today?” This question can only be answered in the affirmative by actually exercising, and this makes it much more likely that you will actually exercise.

The Lens of MotivationI have used this in the design of the 54 questions to ask yourself that I’ve printed on a deck of playing cards. You can use these to design a personal philosophy of life, and you can find them at LensGame.com.

Question form

I call my questions “lenses” and they are in the form: “Because X, ask yourself: Y.”

Some examples:

The Lens of the Boss: Because it is important to know who will bear ultimate responsibility for your life, ask yourself: Who is the boss of me?

The Lens of Needs: Because we survive and thrive by meeting each other’s needs, ask yourself: What do I need? What is needed of me?

The Lens of Followership: Because followers have responsibility too, ask yourself: Have I chosen my leaders wisely? Am I blaming my leaders for things that could be my responsibility instead?

Help us make work more fun

Following on the success of The Lens Game, I’ve begun working on “Work as Fun” ― a series of questions to ask yourself that can help you make work more fun. After all, as Mary Poppins said, “In every task that must be done there is an element of fun. Find the fun and – SNAP – the work’s a game.”

What questions do you think should be included in this project?

Remember, the form of the question is “Because X ask yourself Y” where X is an irrefutable reason for why the question is important, and Y is in the form of a “first person interrogative” – which is fancy talk for a question that you ask yourself.

Here are some examples appropriate to making work fun.

Lens of Fun: Because fun is hard to define and it encompasses much more than just pleasure, ask yourself: What does fun mean to you?

Lens of Optionality: Because it is no fun to be forced to do something, ask yourself: How can I see something that must be done as a choice I make voluntarily?

Lens of Leveling Up: Because what was once fun can become boring once you’ve mastered it, ask yourself: How can I up my game?

What do you think?

Because many brains are better than one, I ask myself: What ideas might my readers have for questions you can ask yourself?

Send me the questions you think everyone should ask themselves if they want their work to be more fun.

I am at: Brooke@BrookeAllen.com

Thanks,

Brooke

 

 

I am a securities trader with a business degree, and I wonder if we are like normal people.

Let’s find out.

Imagine $10 has to be split between two people who will never meet each other. The first person can propose how the money will be split and if the second person accepts the proposal then that is how it is distributed. But if the second person refuses then neither gets anything.

Although this should be enough to understand the question, you might enjoy reading this article in Quartz called  Can You be Greedy Without Being Selfish.

____________________________

Please take this quick survey:

I would offer keeping the balance of the $10 for myself. But if I were on the other side, the minimum offer I would accept is.

I a trader, and I been to business school.

Do you have a comment you would like me to read (optional):

If you would like me to respond to you, give me your email (optional):

Sign up for my newsletter to get the results when they are ready.

Type this: captcha here:

____________________________

 

In the middle of July, 2013 I presented at the Practical Wisdom for Management conference at Yale. Click on this image to see my slides on SlideShare:

PWSlideShare

 

by: Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com

The InterContinental Hotel Group (NYSE Ticker: IHG) is the largest hotel group in the world with seven brands (Intercontinental Hotels, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Staybridge, and Candlewood Suites). They claim more than 645,000 rooms in over 100 countries.

If I take the time to join their “Priority Club Rewards” program, I get exclusive benefits like a free newspaper once a week. After I accumulate 20,000 points I get additional goodies such as Priority Check-In and a special phone number so I can wait less time on hold. Points are easy to accumulate because many of their rooms cost more for one night than I spent for an entire semester’s college tuition.

As a Club member, they would begin collecting information about me and my preferences so they can tailor an experience just for me. They promise not to release that information to anyone – not even me.

I never bothered joining. Unlike many, I can afford their rooms without going into debt to the credit card company. The issue is time, not money – my life is too short, and I don’t want to spend my time with them.

Instead, I belong to a different club, one with more space than InterContinental in more than twice as many countries. And my club is adding 14,000 members and 4,000 rooms a week.

And every one of those rooms is free.

My club is run by the Couch Surfing Collective. Although membership is free, four years ago I chose to donate about $20 and they verified that I was who I said I was, and I lived where I said I lived.

Couch Surfing members don’t have membership cards but rather online profiles that can be seen by all 1.8 million members. Other members write references, which can be positive, neutral, or negative – and all references appear on your profile, whether you like it or not.

Right now, I have over 70 positive references (and no neutral or negative ones), and therefore strangers all over the world will welcome me into their homes without any money changing hands. But if I stop

Continue reading »

 

What follows is an advertisement for an assistant I ran in early 2013. It goes with a story I wrote published in Quartz magazine called: How to hire good people instead of nice people. Read the story to understand what would have happened if you had responded to this ad.
CraigslistAd

 

by: Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com

Paul Krugman wrote a piece in the New York Times in which he wonders if Congress will vote on a stimulus package to head off the Great Depression II.

Some believe that it was World War 2 that got us out of the depression because it was the greatest stimulus spending package of all.

I disagree. I believe it was my father’s generation, the Greatest Generation that fought the War and that got us out of the Great Depression.

People, not policies, got us out of our predicament.

The NY Times published my letter.

 

GreatestGeneration2

Recently, I reprinted the letter and illustrated it with stamps from my collection. The top contains U. S. stamps, and I notice they feature leaders and statesmen. The 3 cent stamp to the right commemorates the National Recovery Act of 1933, and it shows a woman, a businessman, a factory worker (with a hammer over his shoulder), and a farmer with a sickle, all walking side by side. There was no inflation during the depression (in fact, there was deflation.)

By way of contrast, Germany had rampant inflation. All the German stamps in my collection are un-cancelled. By the time a postage stamp made it to the post office it was worthless. The left-most stamp is for 10 marks, the rightmost 20 billion! Eventually it took a strong leader to get the economy under control… and we see who that was.

 

by: Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com

A Luftwaffe Airman’s Daughter

In 1980, my girlfriend and I were traveling on a rail pass. We left from Milan bound for Frankfurt only because that is where the train went.

A German businessman sat across from us and asked, “Where are you going?”

“Frankfurt.”

“Why? Frankfurt is so boring. You should go to Wiesbaden instead.”

We asked, “Why?”

“Because that is where we live and you will stay with us.”

His wife spoke English with a perfect British accent. It turned out her father had been in the Luftwaffe and had been shot down during the Battle of Britain. He became best friends with a prison guard, and after the war during the summers they would swap children. She grew up partially in England.

She said the difference between the treatment of prisoners by the British and the Germans was astonishing.

We all cried.

We were there having dinner with them because they had decided to make it a habit of being kind to strangers; which is not a bad policy even when the stranger had recently been trying to blow up your country.

Beautiful Women of the GDR

I won a British Airways contest based on my social entrepreneurship site, No Shortage of Work, and the prize was airfare to anywhere BA flies. I put a notice on my profile on Europe’s equivalent of LinkedIn called Xing. Dozens of people said they would love to meet me in person so I flew into Frankfurt, then Cologne, and flew out of Hamburg and for 11 days I spent my time meeting people in person I’d only corresponded with before on Xing.

Although my sample size is very small, I have the following observation:

The most interesting, dynamic, interesting, hard-working, fearless, and interesting people I met were:

1) Female

2) Beautiful

3) From East Germany, but were now in the West.

4) Were born under Communism, but grew into adulthood after the fall of the Wall.

My sample size was small and I am partial to young beautiful women so perhaps that is why I find them more interesting than old male businessmen like me, but I still think there is something to this.

What do you think?

 

An Unemployed German

In 2004, in Nuremberg, I met Kai, a very talented 51-year-old programmer who had been unemployed for 2 years, so my wife and I took him to dinner. His attitudes were self-defeating and I attacked every one of his beliefs:

“The economy is terrible.”  So, are you just going to wait for it to improve?

“The government is incompetent.”  Are you going to run for office and fix it?

“I’ve only had 2 interviews and they both ended abruptly when they learned my age.”  People are prejudiced. Do you have a plan for how you are going to change them, or are you going to take a different approach?

“I don’t have a college degree.” That hasn’t stopped you for 30 years.

“Nobody cares.” There is a whole community of programmers just like you. Are you going to continue ignoring them or are you going to start caring about them and see if they care back?

“There is no work.” There is never a shortage of work even when there is a shortage of jobs. Find some work and do it even if you aren’t paid.

“I’ve built some amazing software on my own, but can’t sell it.” Are you going to learn to sell, partner with someone who can, or give up on doing what you want and start doing what other people want?

“There are no jobs in Germany.”  You’re in the EU now so you can go where there are jobs.

“My English isn’t good enough.”  Sure it is; I understand you perfectly. If you don’t understand me it isn’t because of your language skills, it is because of how you are thinking.

My wife kept kicking me under the table and whispered, “He just wants your sympathy.”

I said, “Perhaps, but it isn’t what he needs.”

We were living in London at the time and he even flew over to spend a weekend with me to get more of my abuse.

Soon he got unstuck and landed a job in Copenhagen (good pay, company apartment, flight home every other weekend) and a year later he moved to England for another job.

Kai and I have become good friends and my wife and I stayed with him outside London in November 2010.

He says he hates going back to Germany because too many people there think the way he used to.

I was speaking to a group of programmers, many of whom were looking for work. I asked Kai to write a short essay explaining what he learned, and how he changed his approach to what some call “networking.” Here is what he produced:

KaiStory

 

TowerStackI am an amateur radio operator with a particular interest in radio contesting, in which thousands of radio operators all over the world will spend an entire weekend talking to each other.

I have just completed a series of articles on game design for the National Contest Journal, which is the premier magazine for our hobby.

The articles might be of general interest because they also talk about principles that apply to everything that might be fun or keep you in flow. If you want to know how I use the word “flow” then read the articles.

Note: The picture at the left is of the taller of two radio towers that I use for contests at our weekend house. Click on it for an enlarged version.

 





SUGGEST YOUR OWN CAPTIONS

“I would go back to the drawing board if it hadn’t been repossessed last week.”

“Given the economy, and now that you have written the proof that two can live as cheaply as one, I guess I will marry you.”


This cartoon was suggested by Brooke Allen, illustrated by Alicia Reeves, and published in the November 21, 2008 on-line edition of Science Careers Magazine in the story Finance’s Quant(um) Mechanics.

 

© 2009 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com

Originally published in International FamilyMagazine

Republished in Folks Magazine on 11/7/09.

I was working as a computer programmer at Rutgers University when I saw the perfect job advertised by American Airlines. It had everything that I wanted: interesting work, decent pay, and free travel everywhere American flew.

I sent a letter outlining my skills, and offered to write a resume if they found me interesting. They did not request a resume, but they did call me in for an interview. I thought that it went very well.

A month later, a “thanks but no thanks” letter arrived.

This was disappointing. I called Walter, the hiring manager and asked what was wrong, and why I didn’t get the offer. He said it was just a matter of competition; there was someone better.

I asked what I could have done to be better than the competition. He said it wasn’t likely there was anything I could have done. The person they hired came from the software vendor who had been servicing their account for years. He already knew their needs better than anyone else could have.

“So, why did you interview me?”

“Because the Human Resources department requires that we run an ad and interview three people before we make an offer.”

That made sense.

At the university, I wrote a computer column for a monthly newsletter. Every few weeks I would put out a document about some programming technique or software package.

I put Walter on the distribution list for all my publications. Then I forgot all about him.

Six months later he called me.

“I have a job for you.”

“Great.”

“There is only one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“Get me off that damn mailing list.”

“No problem. I can start in two weeks.”

“We can’t move that fast. It will take six weeks minimum.”

“Why?”

“We have to run and ad and interview three people. But the job is yours.”

If you don’t get what you want, don’t forget to ask why.

 

© 2009 Brooke Allen
brooke@brooketallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published October, 2009, in International Family Magazine
Republished in Folks Magazine on 10/24/09.

When I was 16, my dad told me to get in the car – we were going for a ride. We drove to Bolek’s Foreign Car Service. My dad told Bolek that his son needed to learn how to work and he would drop me there every Saturday morning. He told Bolek that I wasn’t worth anything so he shouldn’t pay me anything. He gave Bolek $100 as an advance against any damage I might do. Then he drove off.

Over the next year I learned to get my hands dirty, how to use tools, and how things worked.

- – -

When my dad had a problem, we went to visit Frank at Frank’s hardware store.

Frank was a problem solver and his store was a huge collection of tools and parts for solving problems.

“Looks like this is a job for a ¾ inch bit and a stove bolt.” “I’d use a rubber coupling and a hose clamp.” “An arc welder is better for that than acetylene.”

- – -

Decades later, I became a dad too.

- – -

I sat next to a four-year-old girl at a neighbor’s dinner table.

“I hate broccoli. How come I never get what I want? I hate you.” She began pounding the table and crying.

While her parents were in the kitchen making her French fries, I turned to her and asked, “Wow. How do you do that?”

Her crying stopped abruptly and she gave me a sly smile. “You want to yell and make a lot of noise. Don’t stop. It really helps if you can cry.”

“But, why do I want to do that?”

“Because that way you get what you want.”

A young boy was given a present by his divorced dad at Cub Scout camp.

“But mommy gave me two presents, and both of them were nicer than this.” He wrinkled his nose.

The dad frowned, “You don’t think this is the only thing I got you, do you?” That afternoon, the father left the camp to go shopping.

- – -

I sat on the abandoned lifeguard chair as I watched a young girl run across the sand.

She twisted her ankle and fell in a heap.

She began crying hysterically.

Suddenly she stopped, stood, and looked around. Her father was far away; out of earshot.

She collapsed again and bawled even louder.

She stood again. Her father had wandered off so she resumed joyfully running down the beach.

- – -

Today, I can tell you what everything in a hardware store is used for.

But I am terrible at getting other people to do what I want.

Teach your children to manipulate things, not people.

 

(And the best way to teach them not to manipulate people is to not let them manipulate you.)

 

© 2009 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published September, 2009 in International Family Magazine

A week after I moved to Manhattan, I went to a street fair and found there a policeman with a big sign: HELP US PREVENT CRIME

I approached, “I’m game. How can I help you prevent crime?”

He said, “By putting three locks on your door.”

“But I already have two locks on my door, and I find it really annoying. How does having three prevent crime?”

“Years ago, everyone had one lock, so we told them to get two. Now everyone has two, so you need three.”

“But how does having three prevent crime?”

“The thing is, crooks are lazy… if they weren’t they’d get jobs. Your goal is to make your door harder to break into than the next one.”

“But that doesn’t prevent crime. It just gets my neighbor broken into instead of me.”

He laughed, “What do you care?”

A girl moved in across the hall a few months later. She did not have a phone and frequently asked to borrow mine, so I began leaving my door open. She reciprocated, and soon a bunch of us on the floor did. Our tiny apartments became less claustrophobic. Friendlier too…

There were break-ins in our building. But not on our floor – even though none of us bought that third lock. Perhaps it was because we were looking out for each other.

It takes community to prevent crime, and communities are made from open doors, not locked ones.

Putting more locks on your door prevents crime just like stuffing your face prevents hunger.

 

© 2010 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com

Originally published in International Family Magazine


Shareholders have a problem – themselves.

My friend asked me when his mutual funds would rebound, and I asked him why he cares. He said, “Because if they are not going to rebound, I am going to sell.”

I asked him what he would do if he found a fly in his soup. “I’d want to talk to the waiter.” And if the waiter said it wasn’t his problem? “Then I would want to speak to the chef.” And if the chef said he couldn’t do anything about it? “I’d demand to speak to the manager.” And if the manager did nothing? “I’d want to speak to the owner.”

My friend would want to talk to the owner about the fly, but I would want to talk to the owner about what it means to be an owner.

Over the decades, as a trader and market maker, I’ve been the shareholder of record for billions of shares of common stock, and I have started a few corporations under my own name. While legally, the two forms of ownership are the same, there is a world of difference.

As owner, I know that the customer is a king who can fire me for any reason or no reason, yet my creditors and vendors must still be paid and the taxman must get his due. My employees must keep the customers happy, and my managers must keep the employees happy. I must not only keep an eye on the till, I must save for the rainy day. And when it pours, I will need to dip into those savings to keep the operation running while the customers stay at home. If I want everyone to be loyal to me during good times, I must be loyal to them all the time. I had better believe in my product, or I shall find all this hard to do and sleep soundly, too.

As owner, I must put the interests of all those with claims senior to mine ahead of my own, and only afterward will I receive what is left over. I must bear risk when it needs to be borne, and I can’t bail just because I don’t like watching my net worth decline. I must be responsible and not self-centered. (And, if I have deep pockets, I can afford to be.) After all this, a sane market might reward me for being responsible, fearless, and not greedy, but only if I actually am. Still, there are no guarantees, for time and chance happeneth to us all.

I asked my friend why he owns stocks, and he said, “Because, in the long run, stocks perform best so that is where I keep my retirement savings.” I’ve been to business school too, and I’ve heard this claim before, but for the life of me, I can’t think of a reason it must be true. Besides, stocks represent ownership, and an investment in ownership is different from saving. Savings are what the owner liquidates to keep the company going during hard times. If the owner liquidates his firm to protect his savings, the business is in trouble.

I asked my friend if he is an owner of General Motors and, upon reflection, he realized that he is through his various funds. I asked if he drives a GM car, and he said he thought their products were terrible.

Imagine my friend complains about the fly to the restaurant manager, who researches the situation, and announces that, in fact, my friend is one of the owners; apparently my friend’s broker had purchased stock in the restaurant. When asked what he will do, my friend says, “I will sell my ownership immediately.” If my friend, who only cares about return on his investment, sells to someone with a passion for good food, and a respect for the customer, then that restaurant may one day be a place where you and I would like to eat. Until then, we best stay away. Likewise, we best avoid GM cars until its owners care more about their products (and us) than their portfolio.

You might want to test the thesis that a diversified portfolio of common shares does, in fact, perform well in the long run, in which case you should buy, hold, and see what happens. But, be aware that market prices are determined by the fear and greed of your fellow shareholders, and little else.

But, if you want to be rewarded for being an owner in more than name only, you must be in a position to act like one: be fearless and put the interests of the customers above your own.

Don’t assume I’m talking about others. If you have money in the stock market, I’m talking about you, my friend.

 

© 2009 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com

Originally published August, 2009, in International Family Magazine

My friend in college, Debra, asked me, “What are you?”

I did not understand the question.

“What are you? How hard can that be? I’m Jewish, what are you?”

I said I was not religious.

“Neither am I. Just tell me what you are?”

I had not been raised with a religion… in fact; it had not been mentioned, kind of like sushi. I was 25 before I had even heard of sushi.

I asked my parents, “What am I?”

My mom said, “Brooke.” She laughed.

“I know that, but what am I relative to you?”

“Our son.”

“But what religion am I?”

“We don’t know. You haven’t told us.”

“How can I not even know what religion I am?”

“That is a personal choice – you will need to make it yourself. Or not.”

This was frustrating, “Ok, let’s make it simple. How about race? I’m not Black, right?”

My mom said, “I wouldn’t be too sure. There was a lot of fooling around going on. Everyone did it; don’t let them tell you otherwise.”

It was like sparring with a judo master who fades from every thrust.

In total exasperation, I said, “Look, my girlfriend is Jewish, and she wants to know what I am. Let’s start there… I’m not Jewish, right?”

My father became serious, “Do you want me to tell you what I want you to be?”

“Yes.” That would be a start.

“When they come to round up the Jews, I want you to be Jewish.”

__________________________________________________________

My friend in graduate school, Mona Hakim, was born in Bethlehem. When she was young, her family moved to Lebanon to avoid threats against her father’s life. She was going to the American University of Beirut when the civil war started.

She told me that your identity card had your religion printed right on it. Thugs would stop your car, and if you were the wrong religion for that part of town, they would chop your head off and place it on a fence post. Muslims did it. Christians did it.

Some people began blackening out their religion on the ID card. That worked for a while. How could you kill someone if you didn’t know what they were?

It didn’t take long for the thugs to think up an answer. If you were Muslim, and you weren’t proud of it, you deserved to die. Christians felt the same about Christians. They couldn’t agree on much, but they did agree on that one thing… don’t say what you are, and we’ll kill you.

That is when she decided she had to get out of there.

I asked her, “So, what are you?”

She said, “I’m not telling you. I’m through with that shit.”

Turns out, she was Mona – good enough for me.

If you conclude that your problems are caused by members of another group, you had better make sure you are not one of them.

If those others are humans, then you are either one of them, or you are inhuman.

 

© 2009 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

My wife and I both feel that our society has gone overboard in making people afraid.

One very destructive message inflicted upon children is that they should fear strangers.

In a planet as overpopulated as ours, even extremely rare events provide plenty of copy for the press.

As awful as they may be, abductions are rare. When they occur, someone the child knows (a relative or an estranged parent) is usually the culprit. Strangers intending harm are few and far between.

As parents, we were much more concerned about the physical and emotional harm that we might cause you than the harm that stranger might bring.

Simply riding in a car is by far the riskiest thing most children do. Swimming in a pool is pretty dangerous. Talking to strangers is not.

This is not to say that children should be left to their own devices… not at all.

We believe that very young children are not yet capable of exercising good judgment, whether it is over wearing a seatbelt, gauging the depth of the water, or evaluating strangers. They are no more ready to bear this burden for themselves then they are ready to baby-sit the children of others. Responsible people must look out for their safety at all times since they can’t do it themselves. Eventually children will learn responsibility by observing others, not by being told a set of rules.

Our point was illustrated one Sunday morning in a bagel shop. I was reading the Newark Star Ledger and the woman sitting next to me was reading the New York Times She had a daughter (age five or so) who had nothing to do and was catatonic with boredom.

Since the Ledger has comics, and the Times does not, I decided to offer the young girl my comics.

She began to hyperventilate and make squeaky noises. Then she began to cry.

Her mother peered over her paper, “What’s wrong, honey?”

“Th. Tha..That.” She was gasping for air. Finally, pointing at me, “That man is trying to talk to me.”

The mom barked angrily, “Don’t be silly. That rule doesn’t apply now.” She snatched the comics from me and thrust them at her daughter. “Don’t embarrass the man.”

The girl became even more upset. Think of all the conflicting rules she was expected to follow and the conflicting emotions that were generated.

It is easy to understand where to draw the line. Think about how you would assign blame for an accident. If a toddler, left in the charge of a nanny, were to explore a light socket with a paper clip, would you blame yourself for not protecting the sockets or the nanny for not paying attention? Surely you wouldn’t blame the toddler for being curious; it’s in their nature.

You may not be innocent, but your children are. Let them lose their innocence at their own pace; it will happen soon enough.[1]


[1] I am glad to see that there is a web site devoted to freedom for children (and not going nuts) entitled Free Range Kids (http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/).

 

© 2009 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

When I was young, shooting a TV wasn’t as unusual as you might think.

I grew up at a time when it was not uncommon for a young boy or girl to receive a .22 rifle as a graduation present from the sixth grade.

Youngsters would take their rifles to the garbage dump and televisions were a favorite target. They produce such a satisfying sound when the picture tube implodes.

This is because they contain a vacuum and if the picture tube is broken, it implodes. The glass in the front is thick but the back tapers down to a neck of a few inches in diameter and as thin as a light bulb. The safe way of destroying a picture tube is to wrap a blanket around that neck and give it a light tap. The towel will collect the glass shards, and the thick face will easily stop the inrushing air.[1]

However, if you crack the face of the picture tube, the air will be funneled into the narrow neck, which will break off from the pressure and become a high velocity projectile.

A friend was at the dump and shot a picture tube that was outside of its case. The neck was facing him, and he managed to nick a corner of the glass where it was thickest. The neck traveled about fifty feet before it hit him. He was not badly injured, but good enough to make the story worth telling.

My father shot our TV through its face as it stood in our living room. The picture tube was still in the case and the debris was contained.

If you were to shoot a television or computer screen these days, I’d suggest you go for a flat panel. It won’t sound as good, but it is safer.

When shooting appliances, do not shoot at anything that can shoot back.

 

(Hopefully, they have not gotten wind of this story, and have not decided on preemptive action.)


[1] For details about picture tube implosions, see: http://www.repairfaq.org/sam/crtfaq.htm#crtpti

 

© 2009 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

Republished in Folks Magazine on 10/17/09.

In 1981, I decided to create my own consulting company. It occurred to me that I must learn more about selling if I was to find clients and flourish. For this I took a short sales training class over a weekend. On my next vacation, I visited my grandparents in Cornwall, where we had the following conversation over lunch:

“Grandma, do you remember when my sister and I spent the summer here in 1966?”

“I sure do. That was a great time, wasn’t it?”

“It was.”

I paused for a moment. I wasn’t sure how to begin, “Well, I’ve taken a class on selling. Thinking back on that summer, I believe you were using sales techniques on us.”

“How so?”

“After dinner, you would say something like, ‘Do you want to clean up before dessert or afterwards?’ That is called the alternative choice close.”

She winked at me. “That’s true. Go on.”

“Then there was the time you made a list of all the reasons I should learn horseback riding even though I didn’t want to. Then you gave me the paper and asked me to list the reasons I should not. I couldn’t think of anything.”

She smiled, “That’s called the Benjamin Franklin close.”

“You would say things like, ‘After we go to the art museum, we’ll go for ice cream.’”

“Closing on a minor point.” She even knew the names of these techniques.

“We could never play you off against granddad like we could with our parents. In fact, it seemed to work the other way around. You might say something like, ‘If you promise to clean the table, wash the dishes, and put your clothes away, I’ll then go see if Granddad might take us out for dessert. But we only get this one chance to ask. Is it a deal?’”

She chuckled. “In my day we called that the MacAdoo close. I think it was named after someone called MacAdoo. Car salesmen use it all the time.”

I was stunned. She knew all these things I had just learned a few weeks earlier.

“That summer in 1966 was kind of weird. Ruth and I enjoyed doing chores for you that we hated to do at home. You seemed so appreciative.”

“We enjoyed your company so much and we did appreciate the help.”

“But grandma, you never worked as a saleswoman, did you?”

She laughed. “Well, there was the time that a builder gave us a house. First, he agreed to let us live in his model home. Then, since I helped him sell most of the other houses in the development, he gave us the house as a reward.”

She continued, “When your dad and his brother were very young we came to know Dale Carnegie. I learned a lot from him so I thought I’d apply his techniques to raising our children. They worked.”

What an amazing confession. “Don’t you think you were being manipulative?”

Her answer: “Not at all.” She paused. It seemed that she wanted to phrase her answer just so.

To persuade another of something is not manipulative if you are doing it in their best interests and not just your own.

 

© 2009 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published as Borders in International Family Magazine
Republished in Folks Magazine on 9/12/09.

Dennis and I had never been to Canada.

So, in February of 1971 we decided to hitchhike from Terre Haute, Indiana to Toronto by way of Detroit. A kindly gentleman in a pick-up truck offered to take us over the bridge to Windsor, on the Canadian side of the border.

He said, “If you are dodging the draft, don’t tell me, but I’m willing to try to get you across.”

At the border, the guards asked him who we were. “Just friends.”

We would have made it had our backpacks not been spotted in the bed of the pick-up. The three of us were interrogated in separate rooms. It was clear our driver knew nothing about us. “I’m sorry, but we are going to deny you admission to Canada. You must return to Detroit.” The official sounded quite official.

I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. Then I felt guilty; I had just been treated as if I were a criminal. On top of this, I felt tremendous rejection.

Dennis seemed quite cheerful. “Great.” He said, “Would you write me a letter?”

“What?”

“I just want you to write me a letter rejecting me from Canada.”

“We’ve never done that before. I don’t even know what you are asking for.”

“Well,” He paused, “Since Junior High, I’ve been writing short stories and submitting them to literary magazines. I have not yet had a story accepted, but I have quite a collection of rejection letters from some of the world’s finest publications. However, this is the first time I’ve ever been rejected from an entire country. Would you write me a letter?”

The fellow laughed. “Why not?”

“Great. I’ll tell you what to say.”

——————————-

Dear Mr. ##########

Thank you so much for your submission to Canada. Unfortunately your offering does not meet our needs at this time.

We wish you the best in your endeavours.

Regards,

Canada

P. S. God Save the Queen

————————————

That night we managed to hitch to Oberlin, Ohio and spend the night in a house full of young co-eds. That was fun.

The next day we attempted to enter Canada for a second time, from Buffalo. The border guard spotted us immediately. A telex had been sent from Windsor describing two whackos.

As he pulled us out of the car, the guard said, “I suppose you’ll want another rejection letter.”

If you are going to go far, you’ll need to deal with lots of rejection. Start a collection.

 
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