May 14, 2013

No, we're not all working in sales these days

A former boss of mine told me that, a few months ago, when I announced I had been named editor and publisher at my current newspaper gig.

I am, in part, in sales now myself. That, I acknowledge.

So, I checked out a book at the nearest big-city library recently, that purported to have some new insights on sales.

First of all, after reading the first chapter, I noticed on the dust cover that he had previously written some pop science bullshit book to the effect of how right-brain people will rule the world in 50 years or similar. Skeptical antennae up.

Second, in the second chapter, he claimed teachers are in sales. He even got two teachers quoted as talking about "moving" students. Skeptical antennae way up.

So, went to Amazon (sorry, not doing the book the favor of giving it a link) and read reviews.

Less favorable reviewers, like me, noted:
1. The fusion of "sales" and "persuasion"
2. That the alleged "new stuff" wasn't
3. The pop-sci angle.

I want to focus on No. 1.

I'd agree that all of us are, part of the time, "persuaders." We're not sales people, though. And contra Net Economy 2.0 claims about multitasking, we're not all on our way to becoming sales people.

Here's how I define sales:
1. There has to be a transaction involving some material change
2. Between people of at least semi-equal sociological or psychological status.

I don't know if a quasi-official labor psychology or labor sociology definition of "sales" or "sales careers" exists, but this is my working one.

By this definition, teachers aren't sales people on either grounds.

They may get "warm fuzzies" from motivating kids, but that's not a material transaction. And, because of the unequal, legally-stipulated school classroom setting, there's no sociological or psychological equal footing.

Indeed, beyond a very general persuasion, teachers who talk about "moving," let along about "selling" in terms of their students are actually approaching the world of indoctrination, where I stand from. (That's not to mention that it's kind of scary that teachers today actually believe something like this.)

Meanwhile, back to the world of newspapers. When I, as part of wearing my publisher's hat, talk to local businesses about ads, yes, I'm selling.

When I, wearing my editor's hat, talk to readers in an op-ed about what I think they should do, or how I think they should think, I'm persuading, or at least trying to. The two are not the same thing.

And, contra advertising sales and other sales "gurus," who drink too much from the waters of pop psychology, the word "try" is a perfectly legitimate verb. There is no "you are doing X" vs. "you are not doing X" dichotomy. In an op-ed, I regularly try to persuade people. At the time, or immediately afterward, I have no way of knowing whether I'm totally successful, totally unsuccessful, or somewhere in between.

That's true of many things in life that are complex tasks. We try to do them, and we don't know immediately whether we fully succeeded, partially succeeded, or didn't succeed at all.

And, rejecting bullshit like that is probably part of why I don't think "we're all in sales."

I have other reasons for rejecting this idea, too.

A lot of people who peddle it are either the Silicon Valley type libertarian businessmen (not "-people" because they're almost all men) who peddled shite like Web 2.0 in the first place. Or, if not them, the peddlers are people like Tom "My Head is Flat" Friedman, who believe that not only are we all sales people, we're all budding entrepreneurs, waiting to blossom like a million post-Maoist blooms.

And, another corollary of that is the boom in career recruiters. (Note: If you've sent your resume off to a career reccruiter, and in months ahead, you notice that they're looking for new recruiters on a regular basis, that's a big red flag, isn't it?

In short, the "we're all in sales" is at bottom line the idea that "we're all commodities now." It's about the hollowing out of traditional humanist values, traditional liberal ones, and also some traditional conservative civil-religion American ones. (This is yet another argument for multiparty parliamentary government in America; tea partiers could ditch the GOP more readily, as true progressives could do with neoliberal Democrats. Because if anybody embodies the belief that "we're all in sales now," it's America's Tweedledee and Tweedledum political parties.)

Unfortunately, there's danger of this continuing to grow, grow, grow in coming years, if what I'm reading on a social media discussion about one private liberal arts college is becoming ever more true in general.

I "get," in a way, State U. becoming ever more wrapped into the academy-as-business model, and teaching classes that way, and promoting the general commodification of our modern world. I kind of "get" Ivys and other large, rich private schools doing the same. ("Get" does not mean "like.") I do NOT "get" small, private liberal arts colleges going down this road. It totally destroys what that sort of college education, and college experience, is supposed to be about.

Without naming which college is involved, even though the social media discussion is set to "public," let's just say that it's a member of the Five Colleges group.

Now, add this: Another college cheating scandal, or mini-scandal, at the University of Albany. Will students like this, if they even halfway get away with it, then take the lesson to the workforce, and try to bribe bosses for favorable reviews, bonuses, promotions, etc.? And, back at the colleges and universities, will at least a few low-paid adjunct faculty ditch some of their idealism, say "what the fuck," and stick out a hand themselves for ignoring such cheating when they find it?

After all, if it isn't illegal, isn't this just another form of sales? Per my definition, something of material value is changing hands, and college students, unlike K-12 ones, are legally adults and not required to be in whatever school they're attending, so there is no relationship imbalance.

And, related to that, we don't all want to be, nor are we all temperamentally suited for being, "entrepreneurs," either. It's how Maggie Thatcher wrecked Britain and how today's GOP, with the "lite" connivance of many neoliberals, is wrecking America.

To sum up: This mantra is about commodifying the non-material, including human lives, and hypercapitalizing what is material. And, per the two teachers quoted above, its insidiousness is already spreading.

But, back to individual lives.

If we're "all in sales," the next logical thing is that we should all be prepared to be "on."  And ready to make a sales pitch. And, if you can't be "on," often enough or well enough, maybe your stress/anxiety levels start zooming?

Of course, to some degree, this is nothing new. I said that this idea went against some traditional conservative civil-religion American values. But not all of them, and not among all conservative Christians.

The "success gospel" has been based on this for decades. And, if you believe somebody like Og Mandino, in "The World's Greatest Salesman," "persuasion" has been getting fused or confused with "sales" for 2,000 years. (And, the fact that old Og is kind of a biggie among older 12-Step folks is another reason to focus a skeptical eyeball on him and his contribution to this nonsense. As well as it being a reason to focus a skeptical eye on "success gospel" churches and preachers any time they try to moralize.)

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