Have you ever seen the movie The Wolf of Wall Street? I can't exactly say I recommend it. It's certainly a spectacle, rated R for real life actual depictions of human depravity, and based on a true story no less!
But it is a masterfully produced movie that I feel like I learned something from.
The "Wolf" in The Wolf of Wall Street is Jordan Belfort played by Leonardo DiCaprio, a man obsessed with getting rich and succeeding at business at any cost. He falls into a running a really scammy stock brokerage company, where he tries to dupe people into buying worthless stocks by claiming they'll sharply rise in price very soon.
There's a scene where Jordan is on the phone with a potential client trying to smooth talk his way into a sale. He knows that the stock he's trying to sell is worthless. He puts on his best smooth talking voice. But to his employees around him he mocks the person on the phone. "How stupid," he wonders, "does this client have to be to fall for this trick? The buyer is a clueless loser with a credit card, and as many of those sweet sweet Benjamins as possible should be extracted from the loser's account and inserted into mine."
Now way a minute. Is this the best way to make money? Being cutthroat and slimey and scammy? From what I've read around the internet, it sorta seems like some people kinda sorta think so. Or at least, to become really successful, you have to compromise on your ideals and morals.
But this movie isn't really about glorifying Jordan's actions. It works for a while, but as more and more sex drugs and rock and roll happen, and as Jordan becomes richer and more drunk on his own power, things start to go to pot. He gets caught up in the law from SEC violations (since what he's doing is very illegal), loses his marriage, nearly dies from drug overdoses, and all that good stuff.
I can't exactly say that I enjoyed watching this movie. I can't really say either that I recommend it to anyone. As I said earlier, it's rated R for really bad depictions of human depravity and it is very explicit. But I appreciate this movie because it is the exact opposite in every possible way of how I want to run my business.
A kinder gentler way of doing business that is good for everyone
There's this idea of "Darwinian Economics", where businesses are lions and hyenas in a climactic battle of the titans for the scarce resource of the customers money. We gotta be sneaky and vicious and do whatever it takes to become the apex predator at the top of the food chain.
Because only one person can be champion of the world! Right?
Well, what are we competing for again? And who decides the winner and where did the trophy go?
I have beef with people who seem to think that in order to get some, they've got to take it from somebody else. The mindset that competitors are enemies, that kindness is weakness, and that business is zero sum.
True wealth creation is not zero sum
Let's assume I have 3 chickens, a sack of barley, and a half dead goat. You have a fancy reverse osmosis charcoal filtered triple distilled water purification system and jugs.
If we both sneer at each other and I eat all of my chickens and barley and goat, I'll be stuffed but parched. My mouth will be sad because all of this tasty food is unable to be fully enjoyed while my mouth is dry.
And you will be sitting over there feeling the quenchiest but ultimately hollow and empty on the inside because water sustains but does not satisfy.
I don't have to go ruin your water plant, and you don't have to ruin my farm, in order to do an economic transaction. You have more water than you can use, and I have more food than I can use. An exchange creates wealth out of nothing!
The same is true of freelancing. My client wants my Django and VueJS web development skills more than they want the cash that's burning a hole in their pocket. If they didn't, they wouldn't hire me.
You don't have to be a supercharisma to freelance
Jordan Belfort does not bring value to his clients. He basically just steals from them. Lying and cheating and being sneaky may seem to sometimes work for some people for a while, but it's a fragile position to be in. I'm also just not very good at that kind of thing (ha!) and don't really see that as a problem. It takes skill and effort to be a bs'er, and I'm too busy having fun and being at peace to want to learn and would rather put my energies into creation rather than destruction.
I welcome competition, freely sharing ideas, referring people, and working hard to do as much good as I can for my clients. I believe in the law of karma - not in a woo woo mystical sense, but simply that what goes around does seem to come around. If you make yourself into the kind of person who helps rather than hinders, gives rather than takes, and creates rather than destroys, you'll start to attract that kind of person to yourself.
Since everything comes back to how to get clients, this is basically my approach to getting work now: "provide value first and do competent things in public". And I now have the best clients I've ever had in my career - people who are kind and generous and reasonable and all around quality humans!
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Horrible movie recommendations
If this discussion of kinder business practices has left you wanting to see more of the dark side of the economy, I've got two movies for you:
The Wolf of Wall Street as we discussed is the outrageous and over the top story of the exact opposite of who I want to be when I grow up.
Since clients dislike being seen as a money pile from which to suck as much as possible while doing the least amount of work, I've found far better success in trying to think about the other person's perspective, trying to provide as much value as I can, and having an abundance mindset rather than being like Daniel Plainview here.
As I mentioned before, these movies are both rated R for real life actual human evil. Viewer discretion is advised and all that. People like these are often incredibly charismatic and can suck you in before you realize that everything seems to go wrong when they are around or you find yourself in jail!
The real origin of the game of monopoly
As we said, business is not a zero sum game. Unlike Monopoly or Poker or Risk or Diplomacy, I don't have to take from you to get some for me.
I once heard that the game of Monopoly was created as a satire on the state of winner take all land grabbing tactics back around the turn of the century in 1900. I decided to see if this was actually true, and found this article in the New York Times that paints an even more interesting picture. Elizabeth Magie Phillips who is sort of my hero now created "The Landlord's Game". According to this article,
She created two sets of rules for her game: an anti-monopolist set in which all were rewarded when wealth was created, and a monopolist set in which the goal was to create monopolies and crush opponents. Her dualistic approach was a teaching tool meant to demonstrate that the first set of rules was morally superior.
And yet it was the monopolist version of the game that caught on, with Darrow claiming a version of it as his own and selling it to Parker Brothers. While Darrow made millions and struck an agreement that ensured he would receive royalties, Magie’s income for her creation was reported to be a mere $500.
Ain't it just fitting that somebody stole the idea and turned it into the opposite of what it was supposed to be and then profited off of it? And that for some reason crushing your opponents is more fun, at least to Americans. I heard once that Europeans are generally more cooperative and that's why their board games are often less backstabby.
I'm also less interested in whether anti-monopolistic ideas are "morally superior" and more that cooperation in freelancing, rather than cutthroat win at all cost antagonism just seems to work better and is also more fun.