Monthly Archives: July 2010

try something new, and links

I’ve been working on something with my son.  It’s “try something new”.  I have made an effort to convince him that he should try something new, and if he likes it, great, if not, fine.  I’m mostly applying this concept to food but it’s relevant to things like trying new sports or ideas or so on.  I realized this morning – while I was talking to him about the concept of trying something new – that it should apply to all of us.  None of us should ever settle for stopping learning, trying, tasting, etc.  But it’s easy to do.  I quit REALLY trying new things years ago.  Hopefully I can shake myself out of that pattern soon…

Here are  a few of my favorite reads this week:

A Frugal Daughter’s Guide to Back to School Shopping: Always interesting to get a different perspective – like a daughter’s, for example.

Should You Refinance Your Mortgage? Rates Are Low, But It Is Still a Tough Decision: I’m leaning towards doing a refi. I’ve got a good rate but the rates are so low now that the benefits to refinancing seem almost too good to believe.

To mini-retire or not to mini-retire? Escaping the Mundane: Great tips on how to break out from the “ordinary” life.

New UK Kindle a tax on literature?: Interesting take on the Kindle. My Dad LOVES his Kindle. I plan to get one soon – basically once the WiFi version hits $100.

7 Habits of Highly Frugal People: I’m working my way through this book for the second time (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). I didn’t like it so much the first time I went through but now I appreciate it more.

Why 99% Of Financial Advisors Should Be Shot Out Of A Cannon Need Extra Cash? There Are Only 4 Ways To Get It: The fours ways to make money are: * Start a business * Work more * Passive income * Spend less This is a great summary to clarify your thinking. Alternative income won’t just materialize. YOU have to DO something.

And a few more links that are worth reading:

making time for the details

ownerlessA couple of years ago my car’s air conditioner had some problems and stopped working. To be more exact, the fan quit working except on the 5 (high) setting. I could have the A/C off, or blowing like a hurricane. I didn’t think about it too much – or rather I did, but decided I was far too busy to attend to a problem like this.

Some other things broke down a few months later and I decided to take the car in for an overhaul. The mechanics were mystified by the fan problem, and ended up keeping the car for an extra day. When I picked it up, I found out that a non-standard part had been substituted at some point in the car’s repair history and the result had been that the fan had shorted out not only itself, but a lot of the wiring in my ignition. I didn’t follow all of the technical details, but the mechanic summed it up this way: “you were lucky the steering column didn’t burst into flame when you turned the car on.” I let out a “whew” and decided that in the future I would try not to let “little” repairs go too long without checking them out.

The same is true for most aspects of your life. Think about all the areas where you need to check out the “little things” to make sure the “big problems” aren’t lurking:

  1. Your health. Going to a doctor once a year is a must, but if you’re lucky enough to have insurance, that insurance probably also covers vision, dermatology, podiatry, etc. Make an effort to work visits to specialists in occasionally to make sure that no problems are lurking (for example, getting a glaucoma test once a year from an optometrist or checking out that new mole that might be the warning sign for skin cancer).
  2. Your financial future. Check on your insurance policies and your will. I am up-to-date on insurance, but Bubelah and I still don’t have a will. I wonder how I can really offer much financial advice when I haven’t gotten that one piece of critical financial planning done myself, but do as I say, not as I do in this case. Put money away in savings somewhere.  Don’t waste too much time worrying about Roth IRAs versus 401(k)s, for example – just start doing it.
  3. Your family future. Make sure you check on the little things with your family. Understand what’s going wrong with your relatives, your spouse or your kids before it becomes a bigger issue. This could be health, school, social life, finances, etc. Anyone you feel responsible for needs a “checkup” from you once in a while.
  4. Your home. If you own, making sure your home is in good shape is no small exercise. From alarm systems to air systems maintenance to just checking out the drafty places around the window, fixing little problems now can prevent big problems tomorrow.
  5. Your political future. I know people get more excited about presidential politics in America, but let’s face it – your Senators and Representatives (both federal and state) and even your local officials have more day-to-day influence on your life than the President does. I know worrying about who gets elected to the state senate isn’t as “big a deal” as presidential politics, but it matters.   The people who sit on your local school board probably have more influence over your daily life than you imagine, even if you don’t have kids.
  6. Your life, the universe and everything. Little things that bother you today can become a bigger problem tomorrow. If you’re unhappy about something today, don’t let it fester. Even if you can’t fix it today, take one tiny step toward correcting it.

I am often more worried about the long-term, big-picture issues and grand questions about life and history and whether the Jets will win a Super Bowl in my lifetime, but little things like avoiding a fiery steering wheel column through dumb luck remind me that I need to pay attention to the details in life, too. Don’t wait until the little problems become big problems; I don’t know of many problems that disappear on their own.

photo credit: swambo

<a href=””>What Is Better from a Tax Perspective: A Roth IRA or a 401k?</a>

heat and links

Just in – it’s hot. The whole eastern US is hot.  It’s interesting how extreme heat and extreme cold both have the same general effect on a family with small children – both extremes tend to make you stay indoors.  We made it to the pool every day this week but one, but Saturday was hot enough that even the pool was unbearable.  Good times.

So due to the heat, another one of my fairly abbreviated link roundups.  In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a “what I’m reading online” box over on the lower right hand side of the front page of the blog that’s updated throughout the week.  I consider that a bit of an add-on to this weekly post.  Plus my “thoughts” tumblr blog and my twitter account usually have a few more links, too.

And more…

welcome to the real world

Trinity: Please just listen. I know why you’re here. I know what you’ve been doing… why you hardly sleep, why you live alone, and why night after night, you sit by your computer. You’re looking for him. I know because I was once looking for the same thing. And when I found him, he told me I wasn’t really looking for him. I was looking for an answer. It’s the question that drives us. It’s the question that brought you here. You know the question, reader, just as I did.

What is the secret to financial freedom?

If you are deeply in debt, or spending more than you earn to acquire stuff, you are living in a world that is less than what it could be. Corporations and consumer society have constructed an elaborate world that is filled with shiny things and toys and useless items. In this  world, you are told that true happiness comes with the acquisition of things, that your attention should be focused on today, that tomorrow will take care of itself. In this Matrix, it’s always Black Friday and it’s always the Presidents’ Day Sale.

Morpheus: What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.

But just maybe, while making a call on your iPhone, driving your leased car wearing your latest fall fashions on your way to the mall on your one day off from your crushing commute and your boring job, you had a sudden thought. Maybe the world isn’t supposed to be like this. Maybe we weren’t all meant to be shopping units in the corporate world’s vast consumer Matrix. Maybe our happiness doesn’t come from owning CDs, or watching American Idol, or buying a Wii. Maybe there is another world – the real world – where your work and your life are one and the same because you love them both, where you can do what you want, when you want, where you have time to give to people and experiences, not just to commuting and working for a faceless employer. No, it’s not possible. Your neighbors look like they are doing fine, and they have lots of stuff, right? This is how it has to be. This is how it has always been.

Morpheus: I’m trying to free your mind. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it. There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.

Maybe you’ve started reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad or Dave Ramsey or Your Money or Your Life. Other people are trying to show you the way out. The trouble is, you set down the book and remember “I need a new belt! I want to see “Avatar” 8 times!” Only you will start the journey out of the Matrix, and it will be difficult – there will be roadblocks everywhere: pricey restaurants, bigger homes, newer cars, fancier cell phones. The Matrix will do everything it can to keep you, because its existence depends on your continued function as a shopping unit. Without shopping units to generate power, the consumer Matrix will weaken. You have to stop, today. Put down your credit card. Stay away from the store. Cook a meal at home. Turn off the TV.  Try to earn income a different way.

Neo: Why do my eyes hurt?
Morpheus: You’ve never used them before.

When you finally leave the consumer world, you’ll notice that your old behavior is now awful to consider.
You’ll see credit card debt, still-functioning cell phones gathering dust in cabinet drawers, barely-worn clothes in the back of the closet, half-empty rooms never used in your house. Your eyes will hurt looking at all of this STUFF that you valued so much, because you never really SAW before.

Morpheus: Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?

The dream is the 9-to-5 world. The dream is a 3000 square foot home for a family of 4. The dream is a $400 per month car lease. The dream is an iPhone, a Wii, digital cable, the latest fashions. And the dream is a nightmare. You have to wake from that dream and realize that in the real world there is VERY little you need other than shelter, food, friends, family and basic clothing and entertainment. In the dream you have no time – but you can have all the time in the (real) world if you just wake up.

Neo: I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid… afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone, and then show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you. A world without rules or controls, borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.

(with many thanks to The Matrix)

Originally posted back in 2007 or so – just thought I would run it for those who haven’t read it before.  I know the Matrix references are already very dated, but hopefully everyone’s seen it.

wealth and intelligence


When most of us were younger, we were told to do well in school – make good grades, impress the teachers in order to get good recommendations, do extra credit.
Scoring well on the ACT or SAT meant a lot. Proving that you were smarter than the average bear somehow indicated future success. Yet intelligence isn’t always a marker of success – at least success as measured by wealth.  Wealth is not, of course, the only measure of success – far from it – but it is a measure accepted by our society as at least a general measure of overall success.

Intelligent people are often gripped by what I’d call (technically) “smart people stupids.” If you’re an intelligent person, it’s quite easy to imagine a variety of outcomes to any given set of circumstances. If A happens, then B or C or even D might occur. Wondering whether “slim chance event D” might occur can drive an intelligent person nuts – you might sit around wondering how you would deal with situation D; would reaction D.1.1 be appropriate, or D.1.2? How will this affect you 15 years from now?

Over the last ten years I’ve started to believe that intelligence – at least as far as the ability to imagine future events based on current circumstance – can be a crippling factor in the pursuit of wealth (and happiness). Someone who doesn’t have the ability to imagine positive outcome X may also be able to avoid thinking about negative outcome Y – and therefore be freed from worrying about the result of their actions. Worrying about the future is a heavy burden; not worrying about the future would be liberating for most of us.

I know people who don’t worry – like I do – about long-term wealth. They assume that they will have “made their nut” at some point – whenever they make it. Whether it’s the blissful ignorance of uncaring or fewer smarts I don’t know. I would assume that not worrying about the future is an overall net plus. It may put you into some pretty bad situations, but at least you won’t worry about the outcome.

I suspect that being intelligent and being wealthy will always be unrelated. Just because I can play the piano, for example, doesn’t make me smart or stupid. It just marks me as a good piano player. I don’t think wealth accumulation can be associated with intelligence for much the same reason – it’s a skill, just like musical ability, or sports ability, or the ability to learn and speak foreign languages. You can’t think your way into it – you have it or you don’t.

photo credit: swambo

(originally posted 3/09, in different form)

doesn’t anyone have a job, and links

One of the things that amazes me when I’m between projects is the sheer number of people out and about during the day. If you go to Costco or Bloom (a grocery store) during the day, there are a lot of people there.  There are cars on the road.  There are people out and about all day long, and I always wonder – are these people who don’t work, or who work irregular hours, or who work at home?  How can there be so many people out and about from 9 to 5?  I don’t mind, I’m just curious.

On to the links:

My New Career: Stealing Cars in Oakland: Fun signs of the decline of the American empire…

Amazon Prime 1 Year Free for Students and Others: Amazon Prime is a great deal – I’ve been a subscriber to the plan for the last 5 years. It all depends on the volume of your orders from amazon, of course, but if you order more than a few orders a year it’s a good deal.

Our Credit Card Rewards Surprises: As far as I’m concerned, the American Express Blue cash rewards card is the best card out there – we put almost all of our household expenses on that card.

The Joy—and Value Received—of Community College: Let me start by saying I know nothing about community colleges. I didn’t ever go to one, knew few who did and don’t pay any attention to them. All that having been said, I love the idea of community colleges and wish they were better promoted. Many professions – my own, accounting/auditing included – could probably be just as well served by community college grads as by four-year college grads. Why we don’t promote these institutions more is beyond me.

The Siren’s Call of Passive Income: An interesting take on the ethical implications of “passive income.”

It Doesn’t Matter What Your Position Is Right Now, You Can Do Better: Great advice: “What can you do, right now, to start improving your situation? That’s the only question that matters. ” Quite true.

Networking Tips to Help You Find a Job: “Make sure to follow through. If someone provides you with a referral, make sure that you follow through quickly.” This is a small thing, but it’s one of the least-followed pieces of advice in the job-seeking world. I’m not nearly as good as I’d like to be at following up; but I’m better than many people are. Don’t offer to follow through if you won’t. And if you offer, and DO follow through – people WILL appreciate it.

The preservation of wealth: “In fact, I doubt there’s a rich person in the world getting by with an index tracker, a savings account, and a wodge of Government bonds.” Probably true. I’m convinced that index funds, savings, etc. are the mark of a small, non-rich mind. That having been said, they are also the mark of an educated, non-poor mind. There’s a big gray area between rich and poor that can be quite comfortable for many of us.

99 thoughts on losing 100 pounds: Hey, that sounds familiar… hah.

And more:

Wake Up on the Right Side of the Bed Every Day

sleeping cat on bed

A positive attitude can be as elusive as a perfect cheeseburger, shoes that are both gorgeous and comfortable, or a TV show with a compelling and engaging script (we’re all missing Lost right about now). But by starting every day off on the right foot, literally rolling out of bed with a spring in your step, you are much more likely to live your life in a positive way and enjoy the many things that make being alive worthwhile. So here are a few ways to get on board with positive thinking so that every cheeseburger tastes better than the last (shoes and sitcoms are sadly beyond your control).

  1. Eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired. In this fast-paced world, we train our bodies to go without food and sleep much of the time. We skip breakfast and rush through lunch, only to pop a high-sodium calorie fest of an instant meal in the toaster or microwave when we get home (yes, we are all guilty of eating Pop Tarts for dinner once in awhile). We scrape by on five or six hours of sleep and lament the fact that our eyes are baggy and bloodshot and we just can’t seem to get rid of those ten extra pounds of spare tire around our midsection. But you can live like the Buddhists and lead a happier, healthier life by listening to your body and responding to its needs.
  2. Learn to say “no”. This may be the most important word in the English language, as every two-year-old knows. In order to put yourself first, you have to learn to deny demanding bosses, shrug off guilt-laden requests from friends and family, and stop yourself from joining every club and charity on the planet. Just say no! Schedule in some time for yourself and don’t let anyone deter you (especially YOU).
  3. Appreciate what you have. The world is full of have-not, why-me, and grass-is-greener complaints. Don’t be one of those myopic souls who can’t see the good that’s staring you in the face. Instead of wondering why you got passed up for promotion, get proactive and seek out ways to improve your standing and recognition. Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses (or Kardashians, or whoever else has more money, fame, and acclaim). Live well, within your means, and love the life you have. Being content is a big part of being positive.
  4. Create something. Working in a soulless corporate environment can often make you feel like you’re just spinning your wheels. So think about ways in which you can produce something tangible in your life that makes you feel good. Plant a garden, paint a portrait, or build a scale model of Devil’s Tower in your living room. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the creative outlet you desire, so make something (anything), even if you think it will be bad.
  5. De-clutter. This is something that you can do both physically and mentally. Proponents of feng shui will tell you that de-cluttering your living space will simultaneously clear your mind of debris. There may be some truth to this, but the two do not always go together. However, a clean house will certainly allow you to relax and enjoy your free time more, so it couldn’t hurt. As for a worry-free mind, that is easier than you think. If you have a problem, write it down and forget about it. You can always come back to it if you need to, but the simple act of releasing it from your thoughts will take a weight off your shoulders and allow you to focus on something more positive.

Today’s guest post was written by Kyle Simpson.  Kyle writes for Medical Billing and Coding Schools where you can find more information about a career in medical billing and coding.

Photo by kevindooley

Finances are Fun: 5 Ways to Encourage Your Child to Embrace the Spirit of Enterprise

We live in a capitalistic society. Many say this with a sigh and a shake of the head, but there are some upsides that shouldn’t be overlooked. If you start early enough, it is possible to rise to unfathomable heights of success. Unfortunately, it’s also possible to destroy your credit and your life quite early in the game by not having a clear conception of how to manage your finances.

kids in belfast

American young adults and children are notorious for their lack of financial know-how. In a society that practically forces you to get a credit card when you turn 18, this ignorance can be deadly. Here are five ways to teach your children how to excel in a competitive economy and to avoid the pitfalls along the way.

1. Teach the idea of financial self reliance early on.

There are times when everyone could use a helping hand, and there’s nothing wrong with that. With that said, there’s nothing wrong with teaching self reliance as a preferred choice. From a very young age, help your child differentiate between needs and wants. If the thing they’re asking for constitutes a “want”— assuming you can/will give it to them in the first place— set up a system where they can work to earn it. Even if “working for it” only means doing extra chores for a couple days, they’ve learned that work is necessary and beneficial.

2. Learning about compound interest is crucial.

When your child first learns about interest, start to talk to them about credit. Explain the pitfalls of taking out too much debt. At the same time, open up discussions concerning investment. Show them the potential for making money if they invest early in life. Compound interest can work for you, or against you. Teenagers are more likely to be interested in these discussions than younger children, so keep the conversations age-relevant.

3. Teach them about other financial perspectives.

Every society and individual family has a unique financial policy. Discussing other viewpoints allows your child to pinpoint the crucial financial questions that any functional philosophy seeks to answer. Here are some examples:

“Is private property a good thing?”
“Should we allow extreme divisions of wealth?”
“How much influence should governments/companies/individuals have in making financial policy.”

Accept that you might not agree with their answers. Keep any debate friendly and informative.

4. Encourage early attempts to start businesses.

When I was 8 years old, I started a business selling golf balls and cans of soda on the golf course next to my house. These early experiences taught me the basics of running a business. This knowledge was carried into my adult life, and inspired me to become a freelance writer.

You never know how far a child’s chosen small business will take them. A close friend in high schools started a lawn-mowing business. By the time he was 18 and had graduated high school, he was able to sell the business for 500K. Now, he manages a department of 100 people in a Fortune 500 company.

5. Allow your child to enjoy the fruits of their financial success, and, if applicable, controlled financial failure.

Saving for college is important, but don’t’ demand that your child put every penny they earn from a high school job into a savings account. Help them save a certain percentage, and allow them to spend the rest how they see fit. Never feeling rewarded for your work can foster an attitude of futility.

Finally, allow them to make manageable financial mistakes. If they don’t save ahead-of-time for a desired item, it’s “ok” to allow them to go without the item. Now is the time to make small mistakes so that larger, life altering, mistakes won’t be made down the line.

Bio: Alexis Bonari is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at, researching areas of accredited online degrees. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

Photo by larbelaitz


yo soy español, and links

Spain won! Oh. Well, fine, Bubelah and I spent half of our honeymoon in Spain – and it was a lovely place – so fine. I can’t say I got “into” the World Cup this time around, but I’m moderately happy Spain won. I’ve been to the Netherlands more times than I can count and I have only vague recollections of it. Nothing against it – I actually quite liked it – but it was just blah, like Germany or France, in a hazy “Euro” kind of way. Much like parts of America, it’s had many of the things that make it a pleasant country “blanded out” into a smooth, beige Europeanism. Spain still has a bit of individuality. So great that they won, and kudos to the Netherlands for keeping it close til the last second. So there are my vague touristy-and-business-travel-y impressions of a few countries.

Once again, I managed to get a bit behind on the links post, but for good reason. My parents have been visiting while Bubelah visited New York briefly to check on a sick relative. Once she returned, we also had a fun visit with my aunt and uncle, so it’s been busy! One of the things that I love about short-term unemployment is the freedom to spend time with people. Just for the record, the thing I hate about short-term unemployment is the lack of income. Even though we have a healthy go-to-hell fund, I hate seeing it eaten down.

Read this:

One miscellaneous announcement: I’d like to put up a series of posts from people talking about their takes on careers or entrepreneurship or anything like that, centered around the theme “why my work makes sense to me.” I don’t know if I’ll get a lot of response, but if you love what you do and want to write about it on brip blap, I’d love to share it. It’s part of a larger project I’m working towards (an e-book, I’m certain that’s a shock).

average career salaries

If I could travel back in time and give myself a little bit of career advice, I’d spend some time talking to young Steve about earnings over a lifetime of work, or average career salaries. The median elementary school teacher salary in the US, for example, makes about $51,000 a year.  The median attorney salary is closer to $91,000.  The median auditor is closer to $58,000.  Here is the difference, though:  a median is just a median, meaning that half of the people with that profession make more than that figure, and half make less.

The school teacher population is going to be made up of a lot of teachers making between $40,000 and $51,000 a year – maybe younger teachers, or lower-cost-of-living areas. The other half might make $51,000 to $70,000 or so.  There might be a few outliers in expensive areas – New York or San Francisco – but there will not be teachers making $450,000 a year.  The system is not designed to allow anyone to escape into a significantly higher pay bracket (and we’re talking about teachers, not teachers who become administrators – that’s a different job).

That’s a real difference from some other professions. Take the Big 4 firms – Ernst & Young, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers and KPMG.  An auditor in a Big 4 firm probably makes less than a schoolteacher to begin with (particularly on an hourly basis).  These lower-level auditors make up the majority of the employees of the firm.  For every partner, there might be five managers, each of whom might oversee ten staff (for example).  So 6 of every 56 people are managers or above, and only 1 in 56 are partners (I made up those ratios, but based on my experience that’s a fair guess).  So the median’s lowered to account for the huge number of lower-level staff.

But in an environment like that, the chance for exceptional rewards for exceptional performance exists. Now, if you’ve worked in a corporate environment or read my last post on stupidification, you know that exceptional performance is not always the requirement for getting rewarded.  Sometimes it’s being the CFO’s nephew.  But as compared to the teachers above, there is a chance that earnings can grow far, far beyond their starting levels.  A teacher can’t, even if they win an award as the greatest teacher in their state.  An outstanding diplomat can’t break out of the government pay grades.

What all of this means is that not only do you have to consider the starting salary for your career, but you have to look at what the possibilities for exceptional earnings are.  I know earnings are not everything.  Many people can also fall into the trap of believing that they will be the exceptional performer, but in a bottom-heavy organization far more people will quit or be fired than will make partner or executive.

So consider average career earnings, and then think about whether you are willing to be the exceptional performer. If you aren’t, maybe the average career earnings aren’t that critical.  If you don’t plan to excel, a career where everyone can be expected to be compensated within a narrow range is fine.  If you do plan to excel, make sure it’s in a profession where that excellence might result in reward.  That’s not to denigrate teaching or praise public accounting.  I realized early on in my career in public accounting I wouldn’t be a partner; I didn’t have the drive to be an exceptional auditor.  So I joined the lower level of the median salaries and might have been happier – and done better over the course of my first 10-15 years of working – had I done a job search and chosen a different career path, with a narrower bank of average career salaries.

Note:  I haven’t read Seth Godin’s Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? yet, but I gather that’s what that book is all about – the idea of making yourself into an “artist,” which Godin believes makes you deeply committed to becoming indispensible to your organization.  Maybe I should read it…

stupidifying the corporation

I grind my teeth at work when I hear the phrase “dumbing it down.” I heard it once when an employee of my client, a Fortune 500 company, said he was making a presentation to a division CEO. My coworker, a middle manager, had to explain some accounting issues to the CEO and said in order to do so he’d need to “dumb it down.”

A person hearing this phrase could take it one of two ways. The first, more relaxed way to understand it would be that it’s a friendly gesture. If I’m talking to a rocket scientist who is trying to explain how they shot down a spy satellite last week, I’m not going to understand much about thrusts and vectors and attitudes and so on. That rocket scientist is going to have a lot more success explaining it to me by drawing a picture or waving his hand around in the air and making explosion noises.

But I suspect the way my coworker delivered it was that he believes himself superior to this division CEO. Now, I am the last person who believes success in a corporation indicates intelligence (and you only have to read the headlines from the Dennis Kozlowski fiasco to see why) but at the same time for a middle manager to loudly and cheerfully tell a conference call of a dozen people that he’s going to condescend to explain something to a successful corporate divisional CEO just because that CEO isn’t a CPA seems, well, dumb. To assume someone gets to that level of a corporation without a fairly solid understanding of finance seems somewhat naive to me.

People have a hard time understanding the difference between summarizing, simplifying and stupidifying (my word). Learning to choose the right one is important:

Summarizing: This rocket will deliver 10,000 pounds of explosives at 543 mph directly into the satellite, vaporizing all of the dangerous toxic fuel prior to reentry of the debris and the potential dispersion of the fuel in gaseous form, causing mild harm to nearby people.

Simplifying: This rocket will destroy the satellite and eliminate the threat of harm.

Stupidifying: Boom!

Too often people choose to stupidify advice instead of simplifying it or summarizing it. I think stupidifying happens as a matter of course in corporations as a political move – an effort to keep specialized knowledge as “leverage” – and is the enemy of teamwork. Stupidifying something is also much easier than putting in the effort to write a clear and concise summary. If the subject you’re explaining isn’t important enough that you feel the need to clearly summarize it, or simplify it, then most likely the “dumbing down” is not for the benefit of the recipient, but for you.

(photo by psd)

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