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> The false narrative of mutual exclusivity


by Chuck Tanzola, CPMR

Every day we are presented with choices of how we spend our time: Coke or Pepsi, Democrat or Republican, Giants or Jets, Yankees or Mets, (oh, okay Cubs or White Sox), etc. However, sometimes we make these choices “either/or” decisions when in fact, the options are not mutually exclusive.

For example, “Work smarter, not harder” — No doubt you’ve heard this repeated many times. What you may not know is the origin of the phrase. I used Google to find out that it was coined by industrial engineer Allen F. Morgenstern in the 1930s during his development of the work simplification program. The program’s intent was to increase the ability of people to produce more with less effort – ostensibly through the use of efficient processes and effort multiplying tools. Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

Yet, while I readily understand the concept and agree with the efficient process premise, I would also offer the observation that working smarter and working harder are NOT mutually exclusive! Is this an “either/or” statement? Why not “both/and” instead? Was the original concept designed to relieve one of the responsibilities of hard work? I don’t think so, but in many instances today, I believe that we have made this statement a justification for less effort.

There are, of course, many notable exceptions. I am proud to pay tribute to the smart and hard work of the outstanding ERA staff. In 2017, the ERA staff undertook the task of migrating the national ERA Conference from a biannual event to an annual event, without a proportional increase in staffing resources to undertake the effort. Coupling hard work with an enviably smart volunteer committee structure, they raised the bar and our expectations. They could have stopped there and would have been judged as very successful. However, consider the (incomplete) list below of new initiatives supported by the ERA staff over the last few years: the ERA/Edgewater Business Environment Survey (2023); ERA SearchLink. ai (2023); ERA HoverMap (2022); ERA Mark Motsinger White Pin Internship (2022); ERA Water Cooler (2020)/ERA LIVE (2022); the updated Manufacturers’ Representatives Toolkit (2022); ERA STEP (Sales Training for Electronics Professionals) (2021); ERA new membership support (2021); and the ERA Talks podcast (2020).

Their repeated commitment to smart and hard work has not only delivered value to the members of ERA, but has also placed the Association in the strongest position ever. Well done, team!

Returning to the initial theme of this article, let me also give another example of a potential false choice that I believe is prevalent today.

One of the challenges facing every organization in our industry is finding and introducing new, younger people into the business. ERA has addressed this challenge head-on with the creation of ERA White Pin Internships and the formation of the ERA NEXGEN Special Interest Group. While both efforts are in their nascent stages, they are beginning to show dividends for those involved and our industry. Yet, while these are good initial steps, at a recent local ERA chapter online panel discussion I attended, I was not surprised to hear members of the NEXGEN group readily agree that it was advantageous to their careers to change jobs/companies frequently in order to achieve personal development and career goals.

They cited the ability to accelerate personal development, find greater skills and learning opportunities, achieve a greater salary/on-target earnings (OTE) growth, climb the corporate ladder faster, improve work/life balance and avoid stagnation as the primary benefits of such action. I am confident that this thinking is not unique to our industry, and concede it may even be accurate in the majority of situations.

However, I am equally convinced that personal/professional development and staying with one company are not mutually exclusive. One of the many benefits I’ve enjoyed by being a manufacturers’ representative is the variety of experiences and responsibilities I’ve had—each of which has provided me an opportunity to develop new skills encompassing a variety of disciplines, including sales, sales management, business development, human resources, IT support, marketing, legal and financial (all within 40+ years with a single company).

While this is my personal story, I know that I am not unique in this. Take a look around at the longevity evidence in the industry. (As an aside, the thoughts presented by the NEXGEN members do present both a warning and an opportunity for those looking to develop new employees. I encourage us to collectively be smart and work hard to rise to the challenges!)

As I conclude, I hope that my observations serve as food for thought. Yes, there are many times when choices are either/or – but not always. Avoid the false narrative of mutual exclusivity!

I appreciate and welcome the feedback and comments I get from each of you. As always, I can be reached at And I look forward to seeing you in person at the annual ERA Conference in Austin in February 2024— all systems go!


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