Sunday, 3 February 2013

Can you judge a book by its cover?

You’re not supposed to of course. You’re not meant to judge a book by its cover. You’re not meant to judge people by their appearance. That’s what our Mums told us.

Image c/o CNN
You might have heard of the performance group Ma-Rock. These striking people swagger around in leather, chains and cowboy hats looking exactly like the sort of people that would scare your granny. I saw this group at an exhibition a few months ago and they are certainly striking, so much so that I saw people who appeared genuinely scared by them. But then I briefly spoke to one of them and the difference was astonishing. The young man I spoke to was quiet, thoughtful and intelligent. Far from being monsters they are actually very peaceful and charming. As we all know, we should judge people by the “content of their character” rather than our prejudices about their appearance.

However I do think there are occasions when appearance DOES matter.

It matters in business.

For example, while I understand that almost all businesses have to start small, you and I don’t have to trust a company that operates only from a cellphone number. I think it’s OK to judge a company that sells things and offers services that doesn’t have a landline. I also think it’s OK to judge a business by its email address. A business that operates entirely from a free email address is also not one you should feel obliged to trust. I’ve seen a variety of technology companies advertise their services on Facebook recently and it’s startled me that they openly operate from no more than a Yahoo or Gmail address. Of course there’s nothing wrong with having a free address like these, they’re fine for emergencies when you’re away from the office or travelling, everyone understands that. But using one for your core business just suggests that you’re either cheap or crooked. Or both, like the company who recently announced on Facebook that they were selling Microsoft Windows and Office. When I asked, using one of my many secret identities, I was told they could offer me the top-of-the-range version of Office for a mere P280, less than a tenth of it’s real price. This company with the free email address and lack of landline was selling pirated software, but I think I knew they were untrustworthy already, simply by the way they presented themselves online.

I think you can also judge a company by it’s web site. While plenty of companies have rather simple web sites, there are others who have sites that appear to have been designed by a colour blind teenager with a severe psychotic disorder.

Language can also be used as a clue. I’m clearly not expecting everyone in business to have a degree in English but when you advertise your services you need explain them in language that is easy to understand. Using long words for no good reason is inexcusable. It’s just showing off and we’re free to judge show-offs.

Language can be a good indication of trustworthiness. I recently received an email which began:
“Now here is the best thing out there to grow your money ! I Am Embarrased Get To Tell You Again and Again about ProSun.”

I haven’t changed the spelling, the spacing or the strange use of capital letters at all.

Of course this is yet another Ponzi scheme. That was obvious as soon as I read their claim that:
“Our Secure Company, Pays 2.15% Compounded every Business Day.”
My point is that it’s perfectly acceptable to judge this supposed investment scheme by the quality of the English used in their introductory email. Forget that it’s a Ponzi scheme, forget that they’re lying cheating scumbags, forget that they are criminals, just focus on the fact that they can’t type proper.

I think everyone knows now that the scheme calling itself EurExTrade is a Ponzi scheme as well. There’s enough evidence other than their ridiculous claims of “up to 2.9%” daily interest. However I think we’re also entitled to judge EurExTrade by the people who recruit on their behalf. Just like you can with the people recruiting victims into pyramid schemes and their not-too-distant cousins, Multi-Level and Network Marketing schemes.

I was in a certain spicy chicken restaurant recently waiting for my takeaway when I bumped into a guy who works at a senior level in a part of government that deals in money. He told me that the last time he’d been there he’d been approached by TWO different people who accosted him and tried their best to recruit him into the EurExTrade scam and, therefore, steal his money.

Needless to say he was too smart for that and told them where they could put their Ponzi scheme but surely this a very good way of judging a scheme like EurExTrade? You know a scheme is dodgy if people are recruiting in takeaways instead of offices with boardrooms, landlines, fax machines and real email addresses. You can safely judge any investment scheme by the venues they choose to recruit new victims.

I suggest that we do this a lot more. Let’s not give in to prejudice but let’s start judging people by the way they present themselves. By all means let’s be a little less stuffy and formal but let’s adopt certain standards. Businesses operate from offices, with real email addresses, with landlines, with tables and chairs and with people who aren’t afraid to explain their businesses plainly and honestly. You can show everyone else the door. The door of the takeaway.

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