Sunday, June 10, 2007

Better versus Perfect, a pattern of change.

I’ve observed a pattern that I want to share with you. It seems important because it is common, and it affects how we view the world around us. Whether we are opposed to change or embrace it. Whether we feel that a change is “enough” or “over the top”.

Now I’m only interested in addressing change that moves us from an undesirable state to a better state. And I’m only interested in addressing change that is intentional, requiring the will of people to accept it and successfully make a change. There is this principle at work, that people tend to look to a perfect state, and if they can’t achieve that perfect state, then they won’t even attempt to improve things at all.

I’ll apologize, this article has been delayed because I’ve been bogged down with examples and keep missing the essence of what I’m trying to capture for you. I see the process like a bell curve. At first we are blithely continuing on doing something harmful. Then there is information introduced that leads us to believe that what we are doing may not be all good and perfect. We resist the idea, we like the status quo, some early adopters start shifting away from harmful activity. Following this there is a less harmful activity offered, and it becomes more popular/accessible to do things the new way, but the new way is still causing harm. Eventually the information, the education and the innovation continue, and people are moved from doing lots of harm, to doing less harm, to doing no harm, to actually reversing the process and undoing harm (repairing cumulative damage from prior activity).

We saw this with the hole in the ozone layer. We were using CFCs and other chemicals that actually caused a depletion of high altitude ozone, which showed up most obviously at the South Pole. Through education about what was going on, we as a global community were able to see harm, see the cause of the harm, make changes to reduce the harm, eliminate the harm and even remedy the harm.

Or take smoking. 50 years ago in North America it was passed off as “sophisticated”, healthy, normal, fashionable, and social. Education about the effects of smoking has been difficult to absorb. People didn’t want to give up their sophistication, their habit, the social aspects of smoking, or their FREEDOM!!! Please someone get me a flag. Even the cigarette companies started “reducing harm” they added filters, bigger filters, reduced tar etc in an attempt to make their products less harmful or decrease the perception of their harm. (How could breathing a carcinogen be bad for me? I breathed it through a paper filter.) Now we have people quitting, and their lungs by wonderful design are actually recovering with the risk of nasty diseases cut by as much as half 1 year after quitting. (We aren’t out of the woods with smoking yet are we?)

Education, publication, and dissemination of information come first. These make qualitative judgements on our actions “smoking may cause cancer” -> “smoking causes cancer” -> “Second hand smoke hurts your children you horrible person”. Now Judgement is a loaded word so lets use the relatively neutral word “evaluation”. An evaluation of a course of action is that it is not beneficial. This is judgement or discernment, or discrimination in the classic sense, but in our North American culture where discriminating shoppers sound horrible and where judging someone’s actions sounds intolerant, we are better off with retaining the idea of evaluating something sans baggage. Nobody likes to have their actions evaluated, and find that the evaluation requires them to change how they are living. But Education and evaluation create an opportunity for change. They show us the door, walking through it is up to us. This education and evaluation is not enough to continue on this pattern of change for the better. There needs to be will as well.

By this point in your life, you are familiar with the resistance of people to change how they do things. Big industry didn’t develop a conscience, they were forced to pollute less by legislation. Very few smokers successfully quit the first time they hear about health risks. There are always explanations for why we don’t change including. It can’t be done, it is hard, it is costly, it is inconvenient, it would hurt the economy, the alternatives aren’t much better, I was born this way, this is my right, and I don’t want to.

Will is essential in making a change. Without will the opportunity to change is merely academic. An interesting theory to be tossed around at the dinner table and then forgotten. The will to improve must stand strong in the face of an entrenched status quo, and in the face of active resistance and even counter-information.

e.g. “The link between human activity and global warming has not been proven” says the senator from the United States who received the majority of his campaign contributions from oil companies… 

Where there is a will, there is a way.  This way can be made easier through innovation (legislation, technology breakthroughs, new mindsets).

Now wanting to do no harm, or receive no harm is worthy, but it takes something more to pull people beyond the point where they stop hurting themselves or their children.  There needs to be a real self-lessness, or a real love that takes place in order to move into the healing phase.  The accountants won’t push us there because they are terrified of the costs of doing more than is required.  The lawyers were satisfied the moment we stopped harming, and are terrified that our attempts to heal could go wrong and cost us dearly. Its the lovers who need to lead this charge.  The idealistic dreamers turned world changers who move beyond “hurting others less” to “not hurting others” to “healing others”.

Lets test out this pattern with a real life example that is bound to have some people plugging their ears and singing “lalala I can’t hear you”.

Our cars consume gasoline that is refined from non-renewable fossil fuels. They produce exhaust that is deadly poison. (If you were to fill a room with exhaust and breath it for a short period of time you would die.) It is a scientific fact that there are a finite number of years of fossil fuels left on earth (, and only a fraction of those fuels can be extracted at reasonable expense. So essentially by driving a gasoline powered car, I’m ensuring that humans consume what little fossil fuels the earth has left. Now the ideal state would be that my vehicle is powered by something plentiful (water) and produces no pollution (clean air). Then I could drive my car with impunity knowing I’m doing no harm (in terms of fuel consumption and air pollution). However, GM, Toyota, Honda, Ford, Chrysler, Mazda and others have not started selling cars that don’t consume fossil fuels or pollute the air. So today at reasonable cost I can’t have the perfect car.

My desire to leap to “perfect” is what makes this change impossible. Were I willing to purchase a car that gets gas mileage / kilometerage? that was twice as good, I could effectively cut my pollution in half, and effectively cut in half my consumption of fossil fuels. Were I able to commute to work with 2 other people, I would effectively cut the pollution from my driving by 2/3 for the days we carpooled. Were I to do both, I could cut my pollution to 1/6 of previous levels. That is a hugely significant change.

Sometimes what blinds us to the possibility of improvement is our insistence on having our cake and eating it too. People think of the 2 weeks a year they spend on summer vacation and insist on purchasing an SUV with lots of “cargo capacity”, which they proceed to drive to work the other 50 weeks a year. (effectively a big empty metal balloon). There is an un-willingness to “sacrifice” (drive an efficient subcompact car), so the improvement in gas mileage becomes negative. I don’t want to carpool with people as that would put constraints on my “lifestyle”, versus I can carpool 1 day per week.  We tell ourselves stories, that are eerily similar to the stories the marketeers tell us, to justify our reluctance to improve and change.

I see incremental change as the best hope of reaching an ideal state. It is slower in terms of total change, but it is easier in terms of disruption, it is easier in terms of economics (consumer and producer).  It is easier in terms of social change and behavioural improvement.  It is far easier to plan a trip to the neighbours than it is to plan a trip to Grandma’s house, but if the neighbour’s house is on the way to Grandma’s house, then the journey in the right direction has already begun.

Do you see places where this pattern of better versus perfect emerges?

Are Banks and Credit Card companies acting in "Bad Faith"?

In business, the people you work with are expected to act in "good faith". To watch your back so to speak. If you sign a deal with another company, they are expected to treat you fairly and vice versa. Contracts are there to keep things clear and defined. However... As human nature seems prone to do, these good intentions get twisted, and in the end we have contracts designed to baffle, deceive and ensnare. And we have conscienceless corporations who care nothing for you or your family, but simply want your money. (for the shareholders of course).

In my experience, most banking and credit card contracts are difficult to read, understand and evaluate. Terms are decidedly one-sided favouring the banks, and in many cases the banks represent their products (debt) as bringing freedom when really the debt in so many cases serves to ensnare and really enslave their customers to pouring their money back into these corporations.

I received a notice from a local bank that they had selected me (I had a mailing address and was not deceased) to be approved for a $5000 line of credit. The bank was nearby and I believe in giving my business to local companies (all things being equal) so I phone the number to learn more. It sounded good, until Iasked what the annual rate of interest was. 18.5% (prime was about 5%). So everything was fineas long as you didn't notice that the $5000debt would cost you $925 per year to service. I chastised the lady (who seemed to think this was a great deal) for trying to promote a really really bad deal that would hurt people financially. This same institution would give a loan to you at a much lower rate if you simply walked in the door, but here they were "fishing" (not phishing) for suckers who would take advantage of their "special offer" and expose themselves to debt.

Another example of this, is the almost monthly letters I receive from credit card companies offering me a low rate of interest for 3-6 months (4% etc) in BIG BOLD LETTERS after which the rate jumps up to 18.5% in tiny little *starred comments or something similar. So they try to reel someone in with the bait and then they switch what the person is eager to buy with something that will not work int he customers best interests. Take my advice, shred these when they arrive. (they contain your name, address, and may disclose that you have a relationship with the credit card company, worse, they may contain an account number or other such information the credit card company isn't concerned about protecting for you.)

Another example is on of my existing credit card companies from the Americas... Every couple months they send me some "credit card cheques" that I can "use like CASH". What they don't say very loudly is that the interest on these cheques starts accumulating the day they are used, not 30 days later when your statement is due, so if you were to purchase a $1000 piece of furniture on July 1, and you get your statement on July 30 and you see your statement isn't due until Aug 15, and you pay it on time, approximately 1.5 months have passed since you used your "credit card cheque" so $1000 * the annual interest rate, divided by the fraction of the year that has gone by... If you had an 18.5% card (since that number has already been made popular in this article). You would be paying (18.5%/8)*1000 = $23.1. I want to point out that this is $23.1 dollars for paying your credit card bill ON TIME. All because you used the stupid cheques that they sent you. Take my advice, shred them when they arrive. (they contain your name, address, they disclose that you have a relationship with the credit card company, and much worse, they contain an account number which means youwill be charged is someone picks them out of the garbage and uses them

(Did I mention that the credit card company isn't concerned about protecting for you or your privacy despite the glossy brochures?)

The credit card companies and banks are NOT your friends, they AREN'T doing you any favours, if they can't make money from you they aren't interested in you, and will dump you (Bizsmart offered free business chequing, and was recently discontinued.  Many suspect it was a customer fishing expedition that did not end up with a significant portion of its customer base using their "lines of credit", so the profits were lower than expected.)

Know your vocabulary. DEBT is money you owe. INTEREST is debt you incur on money you owe. Credit is when you are offered debt. ALINE OF CREDIT is an ongoing offer of debt.

How to survive.

  • Pay your credit cards off (the full amount owing not the minimum) before the due date.

  • Don't use credit card cheques.

  • Be suspicious of any offer, confirm the terms, rates of interest, length of offer, penalties etc etc.

  • Ask yourself... "How are they making money from this?"

  • Ask yourself... "Where else could I find a similar offer?"

  • Think of debt as days working for the bank or credit card company... If you owe them $150, then you are spending 2 days working for them. (yes 2 not 1. You pay your debts out of after tax dollars...)

What are your experiences with how banks and credit card companies treate you?  

< re-posted from my older blog at >