I was chatting with my physical therapists yesterday and our conversation turned to careers:

Me: You like being a physical therapist, right?
My Physical Therapist: Yeah, I love it.
Me: Everyone I know who is a physical therapist loves what they do. What’s up with that? Most of the people I know in the business world don’t like what they do, at all.
My Physical Therapist: That’s because us physical therapists are in a helping profession.

…a Helping Profession

And I thought to myself: Wait a minute…I’ve always tried to treat my business career like a “helping profession.” But there was truth to what my PT was saying: the health field is (in general) a helping profession, and business is not. “Helping” is part of the default culture of being a PT or a nurse, in a way that it’s not if you, let’s say, own a real estate business. For us biz hippies, that’s just sad but true.

“Every Act of Business Can Be an Act of Love”

Later that same day I ran into this exchange on the Creative Giant Podcast between Charlie Gilkey and Mark Silver. It just made my day:

Creative Giant Podcast

Charlie: “I call it the Virtue vs Money Myth, which says ‘you can be an artist or you can be rich but you can’t be both’. There are all sorts of ways we counterpose virtue and money. Why do you think that that Virtue vs Money Myth is such a powerful and pervasive myth.”

Mark: “Because I don’t think it is entirely a myth. If you have struggles around money or certain aspects of business, you don’t need to just ‘get over it’. Your heart is sensing something true. Our culture, our economy, our marketplace is dysfunctional. It’s deeply dysfunctional. By and large the vast amount of money and wealth has gone to people and organizations who are not necessarily out to make the world a better place, but are really focused on taking. And sometimes there are compromises, there are lots of manipulative things you can do to get more money that are at tension with integrity or wanting to make a difference. So I think there is something true there, I don’t think it is entirely a myth. At the same time, what we need to do is this: when something is uncomfortable our tendency is to turn away from it completely. and what I want to encourage all of us to do, myself included, is to face the uncomfortable pieces and ask “Is Love Available Even Here?

Mark Silver

My summary of this exchange: if you treat business like a ‘helping profession’ you will be in the vast minority, you will encounter resistance and you will have to eliminate a bunch of financially effective but unethical (or borderline unethical) tactics. But even acknowledging all those very real challenges…you can still treat your business (or career) as a helping profession and you can make money doing it.

Into the Belly of the Beast

Alan Dershowitz
Years ago I was a reading a book by the lawyer Alan Dershowitz. The book was about the importance of defendant’s rights and defense attorneys. Dershowitz’s argument was this: our legal system is supposed to guarantee that everyone – everyone(!) – is innocent until proven guilty, but there are lots of institutional forces in our system that put that principle in jeopardy. Dershowitz argues that one of the forces that puts “innocent until proven guilty” at risk is Prosecutors: Prosecutors who are overzealous to make a conviction regardless of the facts in the case or of the innocent/guilt of the defendant. According to Dershowitz, overzealous prosecutors are a major problem in our system.

And here’s why I’m telling you this story about Alan Dershowitz…when asked what a young lawyer can do to make to make a difference protecting “innocent until proven guilty”, Dershowitz’s answer surprised me. He didn’t say that more young lawyers should become defense attorneys, he said the exact opposite: Become a Good and Fair Prosecutor. In other words, Fix the system from within. Be the change that you want to see.

My Business, My Choice

As business people, we have the same opportunity open to us. Yes, the majority of the business world is driven by “taking” rather than making the world a better place. Fine. But that doesn’t mean that in our businesses that we need to be takers. Or even silent, helpless observers to it.

We can choose to go into the business world and lead by example. Fix it from within.

It’s one thing for a politician or activist to argue that the business world needs to be more fair and values-driven. That’s all important and necessary work, but I’d argue that it’s more important to be the business person who demonstrates that it is possible to be both values-driven and financially successful.

And let’s face it, as business owners we are in the perfect position to take up that role. We have the autonomy and decision-making power to make virtue-driven business choices. It’s our choice.

Is Love Available Here in the business world? Yes.

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A Non-Programmer’s Guide to Programming

by Brian on December 31, 2014

James Altucher’s new post has some tips for learning programming languages. In his words:

“Learn a programming language quickly by modifying other code. I found code for searching a database. I just modified that and fed in this database. As long as you know the basic tools: if, then, loops, recursion, the syntax of the language, functions, etc you can learn any programming language by having a book for the basic syntax and modifying other code.”

I’m not a professional programmer: I don’t get paid write code. But like everyone else, I need technology to get my work done. I’m a business consultants that helps small businesses scale, which often means my clients need new technology implemented. And that often means that I’m writing code or editing someone else’s code.

As a non-programmer who does a lot of programming, I had a few scattered thoughts to add to James’:


Throughout my career I’ve occupied a space at the intersection of business and technology. (When I hang out with business peeps they think I’m the technical guys, when I hang out with tech peeps they think I’m the biz guy.) And I think that’s because when I see a business problem, and see technology as a solution to that problem, I usually just dig in and try to build the technology myself. (When I started my career I had no employees and no money, so if I needed some programming, I needed to do it myself. The approach stuck.) I needed to create a login/membership website (before those were easy to create), so I built one using PHP…I needed to scan my computer’s firewall traffic, so I used PERL to parse the firewall logs…I had a data job at a bank, so I needed to write SQL to analyze data when Excel wasn’t cutting it…I have a website, and have needed to use CSS and Photoshop to do redesigns (not programming languages, but you get the point).

David Heinemeier Hansson calls this “solving your own problem”. Eric S Raymond’s classic essay “How to be a Hacker” advocates a similar approach.

I call this process “working backwards.” When you take traditional programming classes or try to learn by reading books, you “work forward”…you learn some intro concepts, then you learn some intermediate concepts, then you learn some advanced concepts, all the while writing some theoretical programs that you’d never actually use.

“Working backwards” means identifying a problem and then trying to actually solve it with technology. “Working backwards” is what James described in his article: he built a database/feed driven website (which he had never built before), using the PERL programming language (which he never used before). Rather than starting from scratch, he found some existing code that did something similar to what he needed to do (a PERL module that allowed his code to easily read the text file and render graphics based on the specs in the file) and then just modified that.

When you work on real world problems you get real world experience.


Another benefit of “working backwards”: when you get stuck and need help from someone, you have the knowledge to ask a really good, specific question. Asking someone “How does recursion work” isn’t a good question…it’s very general and it’s really hard to answer. On the flip side, if you’re working on some code and you’re stuck, you can isolate where the problem is and you can ask someone smart: “hey, I have this piece of code…I’m expecting it to do A, but it’s actually doing B. Any idea why?” That’s a question that someone can actually answer.


When you understand the technology it is WAAAAY easier to hire technical help. You’re able to isolate exactly what technical work needs to be done…you know what skills you need to hire for, you can be really specific with your description of what needs to be done (see point #2) and you know what to pay and how long it should take. All good things to know when you’re hiring a developer.


In addition to the basic tools that James lists (if/then loops, etc), I’d add Debugging to the list of basic techniques that you should learn. Learn how to isolate parts of your code and test them in an organized fashion.

The Main Takeaway…

Not everyone wants to be a professional programmer, but for folks that have the interest, doing some coding is one of the best ways to understand the capabilities of technology and make more informed decisions when hiring tech help.

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My New Podcast

November 3, 2014

This week I released a new podcast. It’s called The Independent Consultants Podcast and it’s for solo consultants, coaches and small agency owners. The purpose of the show is to help consultants/coaches get more business, do better work and enjoy their practices more. I started this podcast because I wanted to hear more about the […]

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An Announcement

October 16, 2014

I’ve got two items for you today: the results from a survey of independent consultants and coaches an announcement 1. Survey Results A few weeks ago I conducted a quick survey of solo consultants/coaches to find out how they use marketing automation (tools like Infusionsoft, Contactually, MailChimp, Hubspot, etc). The findings from the survey were […]

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The First Rule of Social Media: Never Try to Go Viral

August 14, 2014

Building a presence for your business on social media can feel pretty overwhelming. There’s all the different platforms (Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, your blog, your podcast, etc). And even more daunting: it can feel like the rules on social media are completely different than anything we’ve ever encountered before. There are seemingly endless […]

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How Many of Your Followers Would Actually Hire You?

August 6, 2014

When I talk with independent consultants and freelancers, everyone’s looking for the same thing: Less Selling, More Sales: job offers come to you, rather than having to convince people to hire you. Better Clients: you work on your ideal jobs with your ideal clients, rather than taking jobs “just to pay the bills.” Higher Rates: […]

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Service-based Business

July 24, 2014

Sometimes I forget that the term “business” has a bad name in some circles. For lots of people, “business” brings to mind squeezing a buck, slimy sales tactics and profits over people. That stuff certainly exists in the world of business (far too much), but I try to steer clear of it and work with […]

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“Imperfect Action > Inaction” – WDS2014 Takeaways

July 15, 2014

I had an awesome time at WDS again this year. Just like last year it was a fantastic experience. Here are a few takeaways: Sometimes you need to go with your Gut: I have a tendency to try to rationally analyze situations. This can lead to me getting stuck overthinking. A key theme throughout the weekend […]

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Five Projects You Should Check Out

July 3, 2014

A few friends of mine just launched new projects. They’re fantastic: Lantern Over a quarter of the world’s population lives subject to online censorship. Lantern is going to change that. Lantern is a new internet censorship circumvention tool built on advanced peer-to-peer (P2P) technology. The Lantern team has received a $70,000 grant from the State […]

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Three Random Ideas

June 18, 2014

Here are three unrelated, random ideas: 1. Every company has all-stars. They are gold. Jason Fried posted an excellent article about one of 37signals’ long time employees Jamis Buck. Jamis recently left the company after 9 years and the article describes what made him such an important member of the team. (Spoiler alert: his contribution […]

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