Friday, February 25, 2005

Stereotypes are Useful

Stereotypes are useful. They can often be wrong, but most times they are right on the money. They are stereotypes for a reason, after all.

What got me on stereotypes was a radio call in show I tuned out of quickly. Idiot Caller was bemoaning stereotypes and how stupid they are. Well, they aren't. They help in life and business.

An example from life: The stereotype of Cincinnati is racist city with racists cops. Remember our riots? My office is on the west-side where most of the cops come from. It's working class and blue collar. I've lived in a few cities and I can tell you, I think that Cincinnati is the most racists of all. I know a few cops and - ok, yes, they do seem alot more racist than what I think is acceptable. If I'm a black guy and two white cops pull me over that stereotype sure does help. I turn down the my rap music, I speak clearly, I say "yes, sir" and "no, sir" or I'll get my ass beat.

An example from business: Up until a few years ago my firm obtained clients from a series of seminars aimed at parents with college bound kids. I spent alot of time speaking to these people away from my family laying the foundation for my still nascent business. So I learned quickly. First off, I could tell by how the kids answered the phone if they were a) public school kids, b) Catholic school kids, or c) homeschooled. Remember, this is in a decent suburban area of Cincinnati. Public school kids were barely able to speak on the phone and almost always screamed at their parents in the other room that someone was on the phone. Moooomm! Some dude's on the phone. Very nice. Catholic school kids weren't overly polite but had the basics of manners - please, thank you, your welcome. Furthermore, you could understand them. They could speak above the level of chimp. If you left a message they at least faked like they wrote it down. Homeschool kids acted like professional secretaries; crisp, clear, and mannered to a disconcerting level. This knowledge was a deciding factor in spending a few hundred bucks a month to send my Lutheran daughters to Catholic schools.

How'd I use that in business? If the public school kids were especially egregious, I knew their parents had bupkis in the way of funds to invest. Most were ok, but had a hard time answering questions and setting times to meet. "We're just soooo busy," they would whine as I heard the tv in the background. Catholic school kids parents were organized, had files ready and most importantly, they could give you a yes or no to most questions. Do you want to become a client? They had no problem saying no. To pay the $5,500k per kid for school some worked 2 jobs but never had a problem with being too busy. Home schooling parents finances were almost always a total and complete disaster. I wanted to call the governor and get a declaration it was such a disaster. Go figure?

Because stereotyping is so sensitive so some I won't even tell you the group that always stands me up. They are none of the above. When I set a meeting with a person of this particular group, I know I can book another meeting at the same time because they will always - always - always stand me up. I don't know why and I don't care. But you can only be stood up so many times for a 7 pm meeting when you could have been eating dinner with your kids before you start to stereotype. I stereotyped and saved myself alot of wasted meetings. That's good for me.

Stereotyping is useful. To deny yourself of the life tool of stereotype is to deny ourselves learning from our experiences. That said, stereotypes are useful, but not always right. I live in Kentucky. Most people in most of the world hear "Kentucky", they think banjos, they think Ned Beatty and then they think ass raping hillbilly. There's no ass raping around me, but I'd honestly go into Harlem wearing a Klan hood than go into some of these hollows in Kentucky. Some of those guys are rough.

Update: I just reread this post and it kind of sucks. It'll have to do. I'll spend the weekend coming up with something better. Enjoy.

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