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Chapter 3
Men Are Cheaper Than Guns


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Intellectual Capital And Bootstrapping


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On Becoming A Mensch

When you measure things in win-lose terms, today's ally often is tomorrow's new enemy. The problem is not that today's ally is tomorrow's enemy. The problem is having enemies in general.

In his new book, Rules For Revolutionaries, Guy Kawasaki has a good term for people who want to help others. He calls such a good-natured and helpful person a "mensch." From his book, I quote, "It is a Yiddish word that connotes a person who is admired, respected, and trusted because of a sense of ethics, fairness, and nobility."

Guy uses the example of a player who calls a game foul on himself despite hurting himself and his team. He calls the foul, because it is the right thing to do. Such a person is a mensch. Menschs do not put personal self-interest above doing what is right. Menschs are not only looking out for Number One. Menschs admit when they are in the wrong, and they acknowledge talent and skills in others, even if it exceeds their own. Menschs are friendly and good people who wish others well.

Guy's first question on the GMAT (Guy's Mensch Aptitude Test. Who the heck knows how he comes up with this stuff? If the test becomes too popular, a version will probably ship with each new iMac) is "Do you help people even if you don't need something from them?"

Too many people view the world in win-lose terms. Either they are up or they are down. Helping others puts them "down," relatively speaking, so they don't do it. This affects our feelings toward them, when we, in turn, are in a position to help them.

We can all recall someone whom we could have helped a great deal with the simplest of actions, but we didn't do so, not because we didn't want to help the person, but rather because we remember the person not helping us, when it would have been trivially easy for them to do so. They were not there for us when we needed them. Or, as likely, we were dealt an injustice by the person.

Being a mensch doesn't mean helping those whose win-lose thinking is aimed at destroying you or your company. You do not help a psychopath by giving him a gun so that he can shoot you. But, by and large, we should be willing to help others. So why are so many hesitant to help another entrepreneur, businessperson, or friend?

The problem with win-lose thinking is that the person is inherently measuring success relative to others. So, if someone else does well, somehow that detracts from the person's sense of significance and worth. If I am worth $2 million, and I help my friend build a company, and he becomes worth $20 million, is this really a loss to me? Of course not! Am I any less successful as a result of it? No.

Unfortunately, many would feel less successful, and this would motivate their desire not to help the friend succeed. They are measuring their success relative to those they know, and they want to be on top. That is the bane of win-lose thinking.

Today's $10/hour computer science graduate student might become tomorrow's founder of a $100 million dollar company with significant capability. Today's dynamic entrepreneurial economy invariably means tremendous variations in the relative success of individuals. Put another way, you can't keep a good mensch down! Intellectual talent is the driving force of the economy. We do not live in a Jane Austin fixed-class system.

What you can assure is that the person will remember you as someone who showed no interest in helping his idea. Or, worse, someone who laughed at it.

What the anti-menschites miss is that while you might feel a bit poor when you are around all your buddies, having one, two, or three friends all of whom have founded and built little empires, is a tremendous asset for you. Those who have goodwill toward you are strong. That makes you strong. Not less successful.

Many people realize this possibility. That by not helping someone, they might be hurting themselves in the future. They don't really want to help the person a lot for fear the person will outdo them, but fear if they do not help at least a little bit, they will have no future store of goodwill in case the person does become the next eGodImRich.com founder.

These people are "Menschkins" (my own modification of the term). They want to pretend to help others while not really doing so (this is actually a pseudo-mensch, but never mind). Or they want to just help a little. Menschkins are always chanting the motto that "Today's friend might be tomorrow's enemy." They never want to make the friend too strong lest he becomes more successful.

Menschkins invariably do alienate mensch friends. You can always spot a menschkin. And, their allies will always be other menschkins. Occasionally, a mensch might stumble into the midst of menschkins.

Menschs will ally with menschs. And they can develop powerful networks. In the extreme case, some menschs develop a loathing toward Menschkins and will try to destroy them on sight, while eagerly helping other menschs. These are the warrior menschs. More common are the passive ignore-em menschs. They tend to ignore menschkins, if possible.

Many menschkins reading this will incorrectly believe they are warrior menschs or passive ignore-em menschs.

You can spot menschs by their sincere desire to help others. Menschkins will always try to help themselves, even at the expense of others. Go ahead, take the GMAT and answer honestly.

Then if you want to move into menschdom, follow these three easy steps.

  1. Do something nice for someone you don't like. Start small, so it doesn't hurt too much.

  2. Do something really nice for someone you like. But, don't tell them. Never let them know.

  3. Do something nice for someone you don't know. Be sure you do it to sincerely help them and not to position yourself in their good graces.