Monday, November 26, 2012

Hard Skills and Soft Skills

A couple articles back I talked about Assaying and Bartering, essential soft skills for surviving the economic Armageddon that seems to be upon us.  There are other so-called soft skills you will need to survive. There are also hard skills which we'll cover in the second section of this missive, things I think you should try to learn in order to improve your chances of surviving and sustaining your family.

This is a bit long, so here are some bookmarks.

Soft Skills
- Negotiating
- Leadership
- Teaching

Hard Skills
- Gardening
- Building
- Repair and Maintenance

- Negotiating Example
- Negotiating Tips from Christopher Johnson
- Leadership Example

More Soft Skills


Negotiating is probably one of the most widely applicable soft skills you should begin picking up.  If you've ever tried to haggle your way to a better price for your car, you've negotiated.  If you are like me, you got a token concession from the dealer and felt like you pulled one over on him, when really you just took his give away threshold and felt good about it.

Negotiation is a skill useful not only in trade but in establishing treaties.  That's right - if things continue to go south, you might be in the position to negotiate treaties between your block and the next or your town and the local farmers.  You can also use this skill to mediate disputes between other people and could safely be called Mediating where you are both the mediator and one of the parties to the mediation, except then we call it Negotiating.

When negotiating, you're looking to improve your position while allowing the other party to feel or perceive, in fact or not, that their position suites their needs.  Whether it does or not is not your concern but you should endeavor to discover as much as you may about their actual needs and goals before or in the opening of negotiations.  This is information that will be difficult to extract from experienced negotiators.  Seasoned negotiators will never fully reveal their bottom line unless you have long standing rapport with them.

Once you have as best of a fix on their end game as you can get, you need to work them towards that line.  Negotiating is essentially the art of telling the story from your position in terms that are reasonable and difficult for the other party to argue with.  Observing and pointing out facts that illustrate your position as being the natural mid-way point works to bring the other party away from their favored position towards their bottom line position.  You may decide to approach negotiating as a series of barters with the same trading partner, each time learning a bit more about them to more effectively trade profitably with them.  It's also worth noting that sometimes it is good to make sure they get the better end of the deal so that if you like trading with them, they'll continue to feel the same way.

There's an example of negotiating in the appendix below.


Vast quantities of writings have been penned on leadership.  The basics you need to know are that in order to be a leader, you have to be willing to sacrifice your pride and your personal goals to the service of those you lead.  You will have to make difficult decisions that mean you may have to tell someone what they can or can not do.  Being a careful and just judge of what is right and best for the group while respecting the pride and honor of whomever must be corrected will be key to maintaining the respect the group has for you and the cohesion of the group.

Frequent communication, but not fawning or authoritarian communications, is needed to keep the group focused on where it is you are leading them.  Direction needs to be clear and concise, but should be rooted in either governing documents and law or consensus and common sense.

An example of a typical leadership judgment call can be found in the appendix.

Being a leader also means knowing when to act and when to not.  Many situations resolve themselves with little need for leadership when the rules of conduct or charter or by-laws are understood by all.  As such, awareness and adherence to the rules isn't just for the team, it's for you as well.  Even when it's difficult, order is maintained by being a respectable leader who respects the rules and the troops.

Leaders sometimes need to have vision as well.  If the direction and mission isn't defined for you, it may be that the team or your group is expecting you to provide that vision.  Here I can only suggest you prayerfully consider what is best - earnestly.  Some will be inspired by God, some by history, some by the needs at hand.  Do what is best and right.


Respect and kindness are critical in all relationships - most clearly in the teacher-student relationship.  Learning to be a teacher is no easy task.  You have to respect your pupil enough to see the world through their eyes, then interpret what knowledge you have to impart with kindness, speaking to their point of view.  Like negotiating, this means knowing your pupil.  You need to know their strengths and weaknesses, their goals, dreams and ambitions.  You need to know something of their preferences and world view.  Getting to know them will make you more able to be kind and more able to give and receive respect.

Teaching then is the art of creatively illustrating complex or difficult subjects in terms suited fully to your audience.  Learning to teach and how to teach others how to teach is an essential soft skill in surviving as a group through hard times.

Hard Skills

Hard skills are those thing which you will need to know and be able to do for yourself.  These are the raw skills of survival that will clothe, feed and shelter you.


Learning to collect seed, germinate it to sprouts, harden it off, transplant it and grow it to maturity to bear its  fruits is one of the basis of civilization.  When the Native Americans began moving from hunting and gathering  to agriculture, they began settling down and becoming less nomadic.  The size of their tribes grew with this stability and eventually they connected with the world at large through trade.  For one person to sustain themselves by hunting and foraging alone, they would need exclusive access to 30 or 40 acres of woodlands and meadows, and they would be living on a minimum of calories.  By adding gardening or farming to the program, a family of four can live on 5 acres comfortably.  It is only through mechanization and industrial farming that our current vast population is sustainable.  Small scale operations have much needed nutritional diversity but suffer a penalty where economies of scale benefits are not applicable.  Learning to grow  food and teaching your neighbors to do the same will mean nutritional security during times of economic scarcity.


Shelter is the paramount concern in a survival situation.  Shelters, Shacks and Shanties, by D. C. Beard (founder of the Boy Scouts of America) is a great primer to learning the basics of constructing viable emergency, short term and long term shelter.  Ideally, your house will be where you left it when the economy collapses, but if you  find yourself displaced or in need of making repairs, you'll want to master some basic structural engineering concepts and learn how to use, at minimum, a hammer and saw.  From these two basic elements you can expand your skills as tools become available and by mastering additional tools you can improve the comfort and quality of your shelter.

Repair and Maintenance

Understanding how things work and how they may have got broken are essential skills.  If you can whittle a replacement handle for your hammer or ax, you retain the use of that tool.  If you can keep a gas powered rototiller in running condition though fuel supplies may be scarce, you can cultivate more food.  If you can properly mend a roof, your shelter will weather more than one storm.  Repair and maintenance skills are often taught more by experience and of necessity than by pure academic effort.  That's not to say there are not many excellent books on a variety of related topics but I would consider machine, tool and home repair and maintenance to be the most basic and critical of hard skills outside of those already mentioned.


Surviving a depression or total economic collapse will require more than just these soft and hard skills.  You'll also find you will have need of a reason to keep going.  It is good now, while things are still somewhat fair and decent, to decide what it is that will sustain you mentally and emotionally till the end of your days.  Chose wisely - place your hope not in things that are easily destroyed or stolen such as material wealth, and place it not in one person who can become ill and die or have a change of heart and leave.  Put instead your hope and energy into altruistic values that will create and sustain a world in which you will want to live and leave to your children if you wind up having any.  Put your energy towards a better future and your hope in the knowledge that you are building and leaving a legacy of that which you are best able to provide, whatever it is that constitutes your strengths and character.  Worry not for things you can possess but for the things you will leave behind - your reputation, your mark on the world and the lives you touch.  And when there is nothing left to you, ultimately, you may decide to trust in that which can not fade, waste away or be taken - trust in God.  Many of us have looked down the long road of the future and already decided that our focus is best kept on Christ because he charted a most excellent way where we focus on our standing with Him first, and in doing so we put others before ourselves, and take concern with our own needs last.  This is the basis for kindness and respect that is not subject to whim because it is rooted in an eternal concept that does not change nor is subject to fashion.  It is the rock upon which we stand, and when the world falls down around us, the foundation upon which  we will rebuild.


Negotiating Example

Let's take the example of negotiating trade between a town and the surrounding land owning farmers.  The town will need food, and the farmers will need a variety of services to operate their farm from labor to security to technical support, tooling, mechanical service, etc.  Let's look at goals.  The goal of the farmer is to prosper and sustain his operation and family.  The goal of the town is to avoid starvation.  The town could band together and raid the  farms, but this would mean no future production from the farm.  The town would essentially eat for a day and starve for a season.  Better to enter into a treaty with the farmers so that there is a reliable supply of food coming to the town.  The farmer may start the negotiations with the understanding of what it takes to run his farm, but may want to limit how much food he trades for goods or skilled labor so that he can trade with other towns.  Negotiating will require the town to illustrate the value it represents to the farmer in meeting his apparent needs.  The town may also intimate that there is intrinsic, indirect value in allying with the town when it comes to defending the farm from raiders from other parts.  The farmer may need to point out to the town that his food supply will be providing sustenance for those who will not work directly for it - children, the infirm, etc., and therefore the labor required to satisfy his needs will be perhaps more dear - that is more labor will be needed to be provided by the town - than first proposed as the value of the food has been assayed by the farmer in the context of the needs of the town.   Bartering skills will provide the basis for the negotiations, and negotiating skill will help craft a treaty or contract that provides well for the long term goals of both parties.  It will also have the foresight to provide a periodic review of the terms so that adjustments can be made as needed.

Negotiating Tips - kindly provided by Christopher Johnson
More than a few years ago I was able to learn something about haggling from a street vendor in Italy.  He was the only vendor in that ally that had prices marked on his goods and was not haggling.  He had gone to university in the United States and was willing to talk with me.

In the course of the discussion he agreed that we would attempt haggling but that I would not actually be buying the item we were haggling for.  (I did buy a sliver necklace at the posted price as a thank you)

He said "pick anything" so we were haggling over a quartz chess piece, very nicely done (made in China).  We began.  He said 10,000 I said "5,000" he said "sold".

The first rule of haggling is know what it is worth to YOU.  You don't base your offer on what he is asking but on what the item is worth to you and with an idea of where you want to end up.

The second rule of haggling is to realize that it is not about meeting in the middle.  It is about getting the right price.  Just because they drop their asking price by 1,000 doesn't mean you should raise your offer by 1,000.  If they are off by 10,000 from the price you are willing to pay and you are only off by 1,000 then each drop of 1,000 is worth only a raise of 100.

The final rule of haggling is to know that at times the best choice is to walk away.

P.S.  Most vendor's are not offended by an offer that is too low. 

Leadership Example

Let's look at an example of having to correct a member of your group.  You're part of a team governed by a charter document which sets up the rules by which your team will operate.  One team member has volunteered for extra duty.  They are skilled in both this new duty and in their current duty and you don't have anyone else that can take either over.  But the charter specifies that the two roles must be handled by separate people for security purposes.  You are faced with having to tell this person that they have run afoul of the charter.  You have a choice.  You can chastise them for contravening the charter, or you can approach them in the spirit in which they have volunteered.  The course that will earn their respect and maintain the team will be to inform them that you have to ask them to make a difficult choice in how they will conform to the charter.  By taking this approach, you have neither corrected them by telling them what to chose nor condemned them by telling them they have chosen incorrectly.  You are simply bringing the reality of the situation into  focus for them and asking them,  difficult as it may be, to chose how they will resolve the conflict between themselves and the charter.  If you came at it heavy handed, the conflict would immediately be between you and the team member.  The respect from them for you and your position would be diminished and they may be embittered against the charter, you and the team.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Health Care or Health Insurance?

How do you use health insurance?  As a health plan or as catastrophic insurance?  

Walmart recently posted rising costs for employees who take coverage benefits.  This has proven to be the same for me personally lately as well through my own employer.  

We use it as the later.  The rising costs of the company provided plan we were on, which didn't provide the options we wanted anyway, forced me to get individual coverage from the same carrier.  We were able to get a high-deductible, 100% out of pocket with no life max plan that had an HSA attached.  That means my deductible and all costs are tax deductible, for now, and we just keep that HSA growing as we know with age will come higher health care costs for us individually.  

Using health care as a "plan" is a bit of a bad investment.  Consider what you pay for a health club membership and compare to what you pay for insurance.  If you expect insurance to cover every sinus infection, you're using a product intended as a safety net incorrectly and perhaps are contributing to the overall rise of health care.  Consider this - paying for your own Dr. Office visit incurs very little administrative overhead for the Dr., especially if you pay cash or use a debit attached to an HSA account.  When you use insurance, there is a cost in man hours and paper work to get that claim processed, and guess where the cost gets passed on to?

Part of fixing our country is reducing welfare use, but also wising up and using the tools we have in a more intelligent fashion.  Paying out of pocket and taking out catastrophic coverage will get you in the mode of saving up your money for that higher deductible, but it also makes better use of your dollars in the short term.  Be frugal and spread the word.