This article is by Carolyn Henderson, the managing half of Steve Henderson Fine Art. A regular contributing writer for FineArtViews, Carolyn also writes a weekly blog on Artist Daily. Her alter ego, Middle Aged Plague, publishes lifestyle articles in online and in print newspapers and on her blog site. Recently, Carolyn has collected 30 of these essays each into two e-books, Life Is A Gift (Ordinary Life Is Beautiful) and The Jane Austen Driving School. She has also written Grammar Despair, a writing guide for ordinary people who don’t jump with joy discussing dangling participial phrases and the difference between subordinate and insubordinate clauses.
Clever, canny, smart, quick, shrewd, sly, crafty, astute.
These adjectives describe the positive, necessary attributes to successfully running a business.
Or do they?
While none of us likes to be classified as an idiot, or think of ourselves that way, it is too easy to fall in with contemporary society's belief system of doing what it takes to get to the top, regardless of what it takes to get there.
Let the buyer beware, we shrug, tacitly understanding that if somebody gets ripped off by another person because he didn't ask the right questions, do the right research to uncover some false fronts on the buildings, didn't read that fine, fine print -- well, that's just his problem. He was stupid.
That the other person was dishonest doesn't factor as strongly into the equation.
"Maybe he was dishonest, but he did follow the letter of the law, and he was smart."
If we don't actively think this we understand it, because this is the hidden current that runs under the river of commerce with which we deal every day. When we go to a used car lot, we expect to be lied to. At the grocery store, we double check the prices at the register because we expect many of them not to be what they are. We take contracts to a lawyer to review because we expect the other side to write it in their favor at the expense of ours.
Years ago, when I worked at a university bookstore, I was flabbergasted when I learned that a 50 percent mark-up and a 100 percent mark-up were the same thing. It goes like this:
The bookstore buys the book for $10. It sells it for $20. (I know; that sounds like a fairy tale; the numbers are just for example.) To most of us, that looks like a 100 percent mark-up because the $10 the bookstore tacked to the price represents 100 percent of the original $10 price.
But no, the mark-up is actually 50 percent because the $10 mark-up is half of the final $20 price.
Same numbers, different interpretation.
That little lesson years ago hammered it in that numbers don't lie, people do, and it behooves each of us to stop and breathe a minute as we're being verbally attacked by numbers, facts, charts, research study results -- whatever it is the person behind the podium is trotting forth to convince us to buy, support, promote, or believe in.
And while for years I have been conscious of avoiding traps set by others to get me to choose a particular door number, I found myself falling naturally into some of these techniques as business practices of my own, when we first started. It felt "smart" and "savvy" but not necessarily "right" or "honorable," but because our commercial culture is so entwined with who and what we are, it has taken, and continues to take, concerted thought and practice on my part to 1) identify practices of deception and 2) avoid practicing them.
And, because nothing in this world is black and white, not everything is always wrong, or always right, all the time and in every situation. But the good news is, everything gets easier with practice, and when we commit ourselves to being honest and forthright, even if everyone else calls us unrealistic, fey, childish, weird, and . . . stupid, the better we get at calling the shots of what is right in the way we conduct business.
Next week -- Accepting Deception -- We Have a Choice