Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Is Sweeping the Floor Production?

[The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Ego Wins! by Ken West, used with permission of the publisher, Better Grip Media LLC.]

Nathan was a new stock boy at a department store. His first assignment, when he arrived forty minutes before the store opened, was to sweep the large sales floor. So he began going up and down each isle with the large mop-like broom. At the end of each isle, he’d shake the mop lightly, as he’d been told, to release some of the dirt for pick up later with a dust pan and brush. 

Nathan was not your average stock boy or store sweeper. He finished the job, but was determined to sweep the floor more efficiently the next time. Midway through the week he had invented a new method for sweeping the floor that was cleaner and faster. He tested it out a few times more before showing his manager. 

It wasn’t too long after that when Nathan was promoted to assistant stock man. Not only had he revolutionized floor sweeping for the store, but had discovered numerous ways to make the stockroom run more efficiently. Within a few years he was manager of his own store. In another seven years he was a highly paid retailing consultant on modernizing retail operations.

In one sense, all labor is a form of production since it is focused on producing a worthwhile result. Production is turning raw materials, intelligence, and action into products or services that people are willing to buy. It is action devoted to creating results. 

It is also creation—creating new combinations of things. Taking materials and rearranging them, moving them, recombining them in new formulations which are then of more value than the original materials.

Production is organized and consistent action in the pursuit of finished products. Even a more efficient way of sweeping the floor becomes a product when intelligence and action are mixed. 

 “Action, if successful, attains the end sought. It produces the product.”
—Ludwig von Mises

“In the last resort all our productive efforts amount to
shiftings and combinations of matter.”
—Eugen von Boehm-Bawerk

 “Physical labor not only does not exclude the possibility of mental activity, but improves and stimulates it.”
—Leo Tolstoy

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Empty Space Inside

We were on patrol in the central highlands of South Vietnam. Our job was to flush out North Vietnamese troops who were spotted in the area. Landing in a large clearing, we began our sweep across a field surrounded by dense trees and vegetation. Our M-16s were ready. Choppers flew overhead for reconnaissance.

As I walked past a small copse of trees near the middle of the field, my foot struck an object on the ground. I looked down. It was a human skull. I picked it up. It was clean to the bone like an exhibit in a children’s science museum. But this was real. It had a small gash on the top which was probably what had killed the person.

Some of my buddies came over to look at it, but I didn't let it go. I was fascinated. A human mind had lived in that skull. A person's thoughts, dreams, ambitions, desires, and knowledge inhabited that now empty space inside.

I pretended to be looking for something in the trees as I wondered what thoughts had gone on inside that once living head. My contemplation ended abruptly. Harsh noise came from across the field. One of our troops with a megaphone was shouting in Vietnamese for someone to surrender.

I placed the skull carefully within the confines of the vegetation, hoping I'd get a chance to look at it again.

North Vietnamese troops—about a dozen of them—came slowly out of the surrounding jungle with their hands held high. We kept our M-16s aimed at them in case it was a ruse.

What amazed me about these surrendering troops were their uniforms. They were clean and crisp. I wondered how they kept them so starched looking in the jungle. We, on the other hand, were a motley group with dirty, wrinkled jungle fatigues that we had slept in for many nights.

The prisoners were lined up in a holding area awaiting choppers to take them away for processing. The rest of the perimeter was checked out. No more North Vietnamese troops were discovered. And, fortunately, no Viet Cong.

I didn’t get the chance to go back to the copse of trees. Soon we headed off to our next destination.

That night, as I tried to get comfortable on my bed, which was a wall of sandbags, I kept thinking about the skull. Of the things I had experienced so far in Vietnam during my short tenure, it made the deepest impression on me. 

I still wonder who had inhabited that skull, what their life had been like, and what went on inside that now empty space. Someday someone may wonder the same about each of us. 

Meanwhile, the space inside our skulls is occupied. We have functioning minds, with the ability to desire, plan, and take action. We have the gift of life. Let's use it to achieve the great things you and I seek to achieve during our life span. Don't wait until it's too late. Do it now. Take that next step. Go ahead.

Ken West is a former U.S. Army paratrooper and the author of Get What You Want, available worldwide on and other online booksellers. In the U.S. at West is a former President of the New England Chapter of the National Speakers Association, and Association of Objectivist Businessmen. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Need Not Apply

Need Not Apply ©2011 by Ken West

Back when I was attending night school at Northeastern University in Boston, I got an unpaid internship at a Warner-Amex Cable channel in Somerville, Massachusetts. The News Director had me gather news, write and deliver a weekly broadcast on local politics.

During the week I interviewed mayors, politicians, school superintendents, and other officials. I also had the opportunity to interview Edward J. King, the former governor of Massachusetts, and Barbara Anderson, Executive Director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. 

On Friday evenings I’d deliver a live, half-hour news broadcast based on the reporting I had done during the week. On my first live broadcast, I suddenly went blank as the camera light came on. Fortunately, I recovered quickly, and got better each week. I also continued my studies at Northeastern University in political science.

One of the women working at the station told me about an opportunity for a paid internship at a major Boston Television station. She mentioned that the deadline was fast approaching, and gave me the contact information. I called the phone number she had given me. The person I spoke to at the station set up an interview for the following Friday.

On the day of my interview, I got dressed in my best suit, then drove to the TV-Station which was just outside of Boston. I was excited at this potential opportunity to work hands-on at a major TV channel. The receptionist at the front desk took my name and told me to take a seat in the waiting area.

The lobby was impressive with floor to ceiling windows looking out at the Boston skyline. People came in and went out. I noticed one of their news anchors rushing past me as he headed on his way outside to a waiting broadcast van.

Finally, a man and a woman came out to greet me, but their smiles quickly disappeared as they were directed to where I was sitting.

I stood up and smiled.

“Mr. West?” they asked.

“Yes, that’s me,” I said, “but you can call me Ken.”

We shook hands. Then the man gave me unexpected news.

“We’re sorry, Ken, but apparently you weren’t aware that this is our annual minority internship.”

It took me a moment to realize that I was the wrong color. 

“Oh… You mean I’m not eligible.” 

They smiled grimly. “Yes, we’re afraid so. But thank you for coming in.”

I left, feeling like a fool. I wondered why the person who suggested this to me hadn’t realized that it was only open to racial minorities. I drove home and got ready to go into work to do my live TV broadcast on local politics. 

I had experienced in a small way what untold individuals have experienced because they are the wrong color, nationality, age, gender, or some other reason not based on ability to do the job. It hurts.

Ken West is a former U.S. Army paratrooper and the author of Get What You Want! available worldwide on and other online booksellers. In the U.S. at West is a former President of the New England Chapter of the National Speakers Association, and Association of Objectivist Businessmen. If you would like Ken to speak to your organization, he can be reached at

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Forty Years Late by Ken West

Grieving is a strange thing—we all grieve differently.

My wife can grieve instantly. When her mother died last week, she cried as soon as she got the news of her mother’s death. We had just come home from the hospital after seeing her.

I didn’t cry. I still haven’t cried for the death of my mother and father, even when I wrote and delivered their eulogy 18 years ago.

(Don’t get me wrong—I can cry. Parade music makes me cry. Certain movies get to me. I try to hide my tears when the lights come up.)

But when it comes to grieving, it takes me a long time. I don’t know why. 

Let me tell you a story to illustrate this.

When I was 15 years old we had a dog—a boxer named Pammy. We had gotten her fully grown. She was a gentle dog, but very excitable. 

When our doorbell rang she would go to the door to greet the new arrivals. She’d get so excited she’d shake her butt and her jowls at the same time, doing a strange dog dance.

Sometimes she got so excited that she would throw up on our living room rug. My mother and dad never got mad. They just had me clean it up. Eventually our rug took on a strange shade of beige.

I’d take Pammy on walks around the neighborhood. If another big dog came by, Pammy could put on quite a show of bravado, getting up on her hind legs, ready to box her way to fame and glory.

At night, she’d sleep with our cat, who would curl up at Pammy’s tummy. They liked each other.

Back in those days you could let out your dog without a leash. People also had below ground garbage pails. Sometimes the lid was left open and dogs would help themselves to the bounty of leftovers.

Since Pammy already had a nervous stomach, it didn’t take her long to get a stomach infection. We got medicine for her and she was getting better. At least I thought so.

One day when I came home from school, I didn’t see Pammy. I asked my mother where she was.

“She’s gone,” said my mother.

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Where is she?”

“Dad had to bring her to the vet to be put to sleep.”

“You mean—she’s dead?”

“Yes,” she said.

I didn’t cry. All I could say was “Oh…”

When my father got home he was obviously upset about it. He told me that it had to be done because of the stomach infection. From then on no one talked about Pammy.

I didn’t cry or grieve. My cat showed more emotion than I did. She wandered around the house for days looking for Pammy.

I never had another dog.

Flash forward forty years.  I was in our living room in a coastal town in Massachusetts. I was 55 years old.

I was looking out our front window. Wasn’t thinking about anything in particular. A young boy walked by with a dog. It was a boxer that looked like Pammy.  I suddenly thought of my only dog. I could see her in my mind’s eye coming up to me, shaking her butt.

Tears starting streaming down my face. Forty years of pent up emotion broke through. I started crying.

“Pammy, I miss you so much. I love you Pammy. I wish you were alive today,” I said to the empty space inside of me. 

I cried for over 20 minutes for a dog I had lost forty years ago.  

Grieving is a strange thing—we all grieve differently. 

If I had my choice, I’d choose the way my wife grieves—and do it right away. 

Ken West, a former U.S. Army paratrooper, is the author of Get What You Want!, available worldwide on and other online booksellers. In the U.S. at

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Marketplace, Orwell’s Mistake, and Homeless Entrepreneurs

The Marketplace, Orwell's Mistake, and Homeless Entrepreneurs, ©2010 by Ken West

One thing we can take for granted is that in order to make an exchange in the marketplace of goods and services we must offer something of value. It’s fundamental to capitalism and to life itself.

George Orwell once commented on the hardships that a beggar encounters. Orwell wrote that a beggar works just as hard as someone pursuing a job, and that a beggar deserves remuneration.

With all do respect to Orwell, one of the great political thinkers and writers of the twentieth century, he had a socialist misunderstanding of basic economics. The missing ingredient in the case of the beggar is value. He offers no direct value for the money. He seeks alms, a handout, charity, without offering anything in return.

The fact that a person may work very hard at begging—standing or sitting for long hours in difficult circumstances—doesn’t make up for the fact that he offers no value. Of course, the person passing by may give the man money and feel good about his charity. But the beggar has not given anything in return, except perhaps a thank you.

Those who are homeless face this fact every day as they seek money to survive on the streets. Instead of begging, some try to offer value, such as holding a door open for people entering a store. Or they may get creative as a homeless acquaintance of mine did on the streets of Boston.

For the longest time he sat in the same spot near the corner of two busy city streets. He was a fixture there. Each day he would have a display of some sort set up to catch the attention of passers by. For instance, one day he had a signboard behind him congratulating Frank Sinatra on his 80th birthday. He had written down a short history of Sinatra’s career.

Other days, he would list all the famous people who had birthdays (and their age) on that day. He also had books of jokes that he had written down on every conceivable subject.

I developed a friendship with this man and would talk to him each day as I passed on my way to work. He’d ask me to give him a subject, such as politics, or baseball, and would then tell me a joke about it. He’d consult his books and come up with many jokes on the subject. Some were quite good.

He suggested that I tell his jokes at the office when I got into work. I’d usually give him pocket change or a dollar. He had given me a value in exchange. The world was a little better and more interesting because this man was there, pursuing his “trade.” He spoke openly about this being his work.

I hadn’t seen him for a few weeks, so I was surprised one day to see that he didn’t have his usually display of interesting things. Instead, he carried a sign that read “Homeless, drug-free and sober.”

I asked him what had happened to his usual signs and interesting displays. He told me that a cop hassled him about it, asking him what he was selling, then demanding to see his vendor’s permit and sales tax log.

He told the cop that he wasn’t selling anything, but this officer of the law threatened to give him a ticket which would fine him for vending without a license. Yet holding up a sign saying “Homeless, drug-free and sober” was perfectly all right, since he was now obviously begging, not trying to offer anything of value to those who passed by.

I tried to convince him to go back to his displays and pick a new spot. But, he was now convinced that he was no longer a free man in a free country.

[For a related post, see "Homeless Entrepreneurs" at my Roadbrains blog: ]

Ken West, a former U.S. Army paratrooper, is the author of Get What You Want!, available worldwide on and other online booksellers. In the U.S. at

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Friar Tuck's Friend

Friar Tuck’s Friend, ©2010 by Ken West, all rights reserved

After a busy day at the bookstore on Washington Street in Boston, we’d go around the corner to Friar Tuck’s, a tavern on Province Place. It was crowded after five with everyone from the surrounding jeweler’s buildings and retail shops. The juke box was always going. The horseshoe bar buzzed with conversations about work, sports, sex, politics, and gambling.

We’d go over as a group of three or four, all minimum wage booksellers ready to drink beer and complain about our jobs. One night I found myself sitting next to some guy who worked in the Jeweler’s building. I had seen him before. He always had on a dark suit and tie, but didn’t look like a big-shot. He looked more like a mid-level kind of guy.

We struck up a casual conversation about the Boston Red Sox, but eventually moved on to the state of the economy and the world. We seemed to be in sync on many things. The beer helped. Meanwhile my fellow booksellers had drifted into other corners of the bar.

Friar Tuck’s was a place with many waves of patrons coming in throughout the day and night. The after-work crowd would be thinning out in a while. New patrons would be drifting in. I was still talking with the guy. He was married and had two kids. Lived out in the suburbs somewhere. He told me about his rich mother who lived in Connecticut. They didn’t get along very well.

Somewhere we crossed an invisible line in our conversation. We seemed to be verging on a potential friendship. Perhaps the beer was exerting its influence. Suddenly he began talking about what would happen next when we became friends.

He mentioned all manner of things, from inviting me and my wife over to his home, seeing each other after work, introducing me to his mother who visited now and then, talking on the telephone, going on trips together, chartering a fishing boat, going to football games… and his mental checklist went on and on and on. He was starting to scare me.

Friar Tuck’s bar crowd was thinning out. The next wave of drinkers hadn’t arrived yet. It was time for me to go home. My new “friend” was going to stay a bit longer, perhaps to contemplate the numerous things that must be done to transition to a full-blossoming friendship.

I avoided going into Friar Tuck’s for about three weeks. When I finally resumed going there after work, I was careful to avoid the part of the bar where the guy usually sat. I didn’t see him on my first week back. About a week later I saw him sitting in the same seat, thankfully conversing with someone else.

We never talked again.

Ken West, a former U.S. Army paratrooper, is president of Better Grip Media LLC and author of Get What You Want! Workbook… available worldwide on and other online booksellers. In the U.S. at

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Patrick Henry Speaks to the Police

I was taking a Saturday morning class at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. It was a public speaking class and most of my classmates were police officers, both local and state. They were taking this course as part of their educational requirements for promotion. They were a friendly group, yet I had no doubt that they would handcuff me and shove me into their police cruisers if I were arrested. Most were big, strong, and formidable.

Our assignment for this particular Saturday morning was to recite a small portion from a famous speech. I had chosen the last part of Patrick Henry’s “Give me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech. Most of the cops were not particularly gifted in their ability to do dramatic readings. Many tended to speak in monotones, as if giving a police report.

My turn came. I got up, walked to the lectern, and glanced at my speech. I had triple spaced it and marked it up according to its high and low points for voice inflection and volume. I was ready. I loved this speech.

I almost knew my lines by heart. I began reading, making sure that I looked out at my audience as if I were talking directly to them.

“They tell us, sir, that we are weak—unable to cope with so formidable an adversary.”

Heads popped up. The tone of my voice and Patrick Henry’s words had their attention.

“But when shall we be stronger? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and a British guard shall be stationed in every house?”

This normally boisterous group was silent and still. There was tension in the room. Patrick Henry’s words seemed to mesmerize them. I raised my voice and paused at certain key moments of the speech.

“If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery!”

My voice was rising. “Our chains are forged! Their clanking can be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable—and let it come!”

I suddenly lowered my voice to a loud stage whisper. “I repeat it, sir, let it come!”

I had the rapt attention of my audience. They didn’t move a muscle except for a widening of their eyes. I paused to let the words sink in.

“Gentlemen may cry, ‘Peace! Peace!’—but… there… is… no… peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms!”

I looked at the faces of these tough cops. They looked like deer caught in the headlights.

“Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God!”

I had the feeling that my audience was about to rise up. They seemed tense, but remained still. It was time for me to speak one of the most famous lines in American history.

“I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

I said these last words making eye contact with one of the biggest and toughest cops. There was a pregnant moment of silence. Then everyone burst into applause.

Later, as the class was breaking up for the morning, the big and tough looking cop told me that my reading of Patrick Henry’s speech had given him goose-bumps. Some other cops standing nearby told me that it had the same effect on them.

It’s good to know that the power of well-chosen words, spoken with passion, can move people. Patrick Henry knew it, and delivered a burning fuse that ignited the American Revolution.

On that Saturday morning in Boston those cops and I felt just a momentary tremor of its power.


Ken West, a former U.S. Army Paratrooper, is the author of Get What You Want available worldwide on and other online booksellers. Ken is currently the program manager for an international training and consulting firm.