The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: February 2006
Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:
- Don't assume the other person, party, or group is damaged. Assume they are healthy, mature, and constructive unless they prove otherwise. This will save you all kinds of stress.
- Don't upgrade any software unless a) you use it frequently and you can obtain better performance, or b) it's essential to other elements you use. Otherwise, it's like taking the time to clean the rear of a painting in a remote room you never visit.
- Eschew fads. Most blogs are inane. Radical styles will never serve you well in a business setting (and you'll usually look ridiculous in a social setting). Have you ever tried to speak to someone with one of those ear phone gizmos blinking on the side of his or her head, as if they are something out of Star Trek? It's tough not to laugh.
- Consider keeping a diary. Even a few brief lines every day may serve to remind you sometime later what you were thinking and why. Recording one's thoughts, on paper or on tape, can serve as very effective self-therapy. (The great comedian Sid Caesar claims to have cured his depression by doing exactly that.)
- If you're not sure if you should speak, then wait. Blurting out something prematurely can't be retracted, but by waiting you can always contribute your thoughts later, on more solid ground. Worst case, you miss the chance, but that's never fatal.
- If you want to save time, ask people, "Why?" Why do you need a half-hour of my time? Why do you need to speak to me NOW? Why must we meet about this subject? Why aren't you doing this without me? More often than not, you're not needed, and certainly not at that moment at someone else's discretion.
- Listen to your kids' teachers about behavior, but not necessarily about subject matter. That is, use your discretion. I've found more and more teachers who are just a few pages ahead of the kids and who have taken extensive education courses but are notoriously weak on content. One English teacher could not name the parts of speech for me, and two math teachers had a hard time figuring out the total area of the roof on their own house.
- Throw "cement" on agreements. If you have a business or social engagement or contract set for the future, don't assume that months can go by with the other party sharing your commitment. Every so often, remind them of the date, expectation, and/or activity so that you remain on the priority list.
- There's a famous story of a man who threw his dog out the first story window every time the dog soiled the carpet. So, the dog learned to soil the carpet and then jump out the window himself. Be careful what you reinforce—it may not be what you wish for.
- When is the last time you REALLY learned something new? Most of you have heard me state how stupid I was just two weeks ago. I'm rather proud of that. If you're content with what you now know, you'll be mired in dullsville within no time.
Some time in the early 80s my wife and I attended an oldies rock 'n' roll show at Madison Square Garden in New York. We managed the price for tickets that placed us up near the rafters and off to the side. There were a dozen or more of the great groups and original singers (this is classic "doo-wop" I'm talking about). The Five Satins, for example, sang "In the Still of the Night" acappella. During the evening, the emcee introduced two of the members of the original Jive Five who were in the audience, and they took a bow.
I realized I'd never hear The Jive Five perform, because they started in the 50s. Their two mega-hits were "My True Story" and "Cry, Cry, Cry."
These are amazing recordings. The thing about classic doo-wop is that, after all these years, you can still remember all the words. You can't say that about a lot of music.
Last week we attended another oldies show at the Providence Performing Arts Center, but this time we could afford to sit in the fifth row, center.
There was no program and we hadn't looked into the acts, so we sat happily through the Tuneweavers, Diamonds, Belmonts, etc.
Then, during the second act, the penultimate group of the night was introduced with this admonition: "Pay attention, Eugene Pitt is now in the house." Eugene Pitt is the lead singer of the original Jive Five, and the house lights went up to show the group (four of the members with it for over 40 years) and Mr. Pitt, with a broken foot, but beret in place and ready for action.
They went through a 20-minute complicated set, winding up with their two hits. Mr. Pitt sounded exactly as he did a half-century ago, including a spine-tingling falsetto, and the harmony was great. They departed to a standing ovation. I could have wept.
I did get to see The Jive Five perform again. What do you know?
These groups are still touring because of a love of the music and a remembrance of the times. As Billy Joel sings, they're "keeping the faith."
The audience shows up for the same reasons. No one is getting wealthy (these are large groups, complete with musicians), but every one of them seems to be happy as a clam.
It's important to connect with your roots and to appreciate what remains transcendently important. I can remember where I first heard most of this music, the girl I was with (or wishing to be with), the soda shop, the dance, the car ride. I can remember the blissfully great times of growing up to songs of love, passion, and harmony.
I can remember all the words. They are the words to the novel of my life.
This morning a woman was trying to negotiate a significant hill on a major road in the snow and slush. She had a compact car, rear engine drive, no snow tires, and, apparently, no sense.
As I watched from a safe distance in my truck, she slid backwards down the hill frantically turning her wheel right and left repeatedly, which merely served to provide a nice pattern in the snow as she drifted into a curb (and, fortunately, not the car farther down the hill which had stopped in near-panic upon seeing her).
This person left the house seeing the conditions and knowing what she would have to drive, as well as knowing her route. Yet she didn't choose an alternative (taxi, friend, public transportation), didn't vary the route (circumvent the hill), and then wasn't prepared to deal with the inevitable result (turn the wheels into the curb and let the car come to a rest before it gathers too much speed).
I don't drive my own car in the snow, but it's not because it can't perform well (it weighs 5,500 pounds, has six gears, and four wheel drive), but because I don't trust other people. If you're going to slide into me, then slide into my very large SUV.
We can see people every day who go to their routine jobs, enter familiar places, deal with expected situations, and face the predictable without preparing to do so. I've watched gate agents at airports act as if they've never boarded people with physical impairments on a plane before. I've been stunned by ushers who can't handle seating in a theater that hasn't changed in years. I'm struck dumb by families attending holiday events with the same relatives for 30 years who are enraged by behaviors they know will emerge more surely than a weed in a garden.
Life may be rich and diverse, but unless you're scuba diving for the first time or exploring the high Andes as a novice, you can pretty much bet on what most of it will be like. When it rains, you get wet. When you speak your mind, you may encounter an opposing argument. When you root for the home team, you may be disappointed. When you drive a toy car in the snow up a hill, you are apt to fall prey to gravity and not intent.
In business, we KNOW what almost every situation may bring, so why aren't we prepared for the objection, the delay, the late appointment? Why are we enraged when a plane is late, or a highway clogged? Stuff happens.
It seems to me that the most successful people are those who suit their conduct to the times (to quote Machiavelli). It's not what happens to you, it's what you do before it, during it, and after it.
And that's why I know that only some of you will heed this advice. But you'll be ones on the top of the hill.
The town of East Greenwich was having a local referendum, and voting was taking place in the town gymnasium. I arrived after an appointment at about 4, and the place was deserted. Various election officials stood around chatting and drinking coffee, and about 40 feet of registration tables was staffed by the usual contingent of VERY senior female citizens.
A dozen of them watched me as I walked up to the "W" table, and when I gave the woman my name she said, "YOU'RE Alan Weiss?" "Yes," I said, with a slightly insouciant smile, enjoying my ever-increasing fame, sorry that the gym wasn't more occupied.
"Girls, GIRLS!" the woman shouted, "THIS is Marie Weiss's husband! Your wife is incredible!"