Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 162, February 2013 )
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We were escorted to one of the largest suites at the Ritz-Carlton in St. Thomas. The general manager had greeted us and everyone was incredibly helpful and friendly. They all asked, "Is there anything at all we can do for you?"
After looking around our digs for a minute or two, I realized that if we were farther out toward the end, we'd have a much better view. I said to the concierge, "Remember your offer….?" Fifteen minutes later we were re-deposited at the end of the building facing the sea with a humungous balcony. (A few doors away was the presidential suite where President Obama recently stayed.)
You never know until you ask. You can get lower prices, larger spaces, more service, and unknown amenities if you simply inquire. The worst that can happen is you're told that it can't happen.
I'm not a negotiator, and I rarely look at a price tag. But when I told Mercedes that I thought their property tax reimbursement demand was unreasonable and would they investigate, they halved it on the spot. Whenever I ask, "Is there a better table?" I'll get one if one is available. If the wine I order is out of stock, the sommelier will offer an alternative, and I'll ask, "What do you have slightly better that you'll offer at the same price?" I'll usually be accommodated.
I'm not suggesting you act as if you're in a souk, but simple questions never hurt. "Do you accept installments?" or "Is there a discount for cash?" or "Is there a way to avoid the line?"
This also is a good technique to use on yourself. We have some logistics and discipline (!) problems taking our dogs to be bathed and groomed. So we asked, "Can we take the grooming to them?" And we found a mobile groomer who comes to the house with a grooming van.
Ask yourself, "Is it really necessary for me to do this?" (Just as I ask a hotel, "Is it really necessary for me to fill out all this paperwork for my meeting?") The hotel almost always says, "No, just sign the one form with your payment choice."
I'll bet you might tell yourself, "No, stop doing it."
The human condition: Data-drive
We are obsessed with data, justification, verification, and validation. The stock market goes down and at 10:30 in the morning some pundit is quoted in the news that the cause is "failing belief in the sincerity of Euro-Zone members to mutual aid in the future." Says who? The news reports it because the media can't bear to say, "The market is down thus far this morning," and leave it at that.
Our insistence on underlying cause and data-justification often creates worse circumstances than the problem itself. I once heard the position of shortstop in baseball (where fast, bouncing balls must be fielded and quickly thrown to first base) as "easy to understand but very hard to execute." There is a difference between complicated and complex.
I don't know how sound comes out of a phone, I'd just as soon attribute it to magic. But I do know that if I press a button I'll either hear a dial tone or someone's voice. That happens consistently. However, the stock market is complex, comprising institutional investors, global connections, speed trading, diverse instruments, interpretations of corporate earnings, guesses about confidential strategies, and so forth. I have no idea what will happen in tomorrow's market, any more than I do with the outcome of a football game or horse race.
We need to operate in greater comfort with ambiguity. The ability to adjust, adapt, and acclimate is more important than trying to avoid it or eliminate it. I know how to make an airline reservation and get my boarding pass, but I don't know if the plane will be on time or even take off, so some "Plan B" needs to be in my head (or even in place).
Talib in "The Black Swan" makes the now-famous point that a turkey is confident the butcher loves it for about a thousand days, since it is fed well and unmolested. Then Thanksgiving comes, and in the midst of a sense of great well being, things change harshly. The past is not a very good predictor of the future, no matter how much data we have and how long we have it.
I'm not looking for validation, I'm looking for victory. I don't want verification, but I do need veracity. I am not propelled by data-drive.
I just want to drive.
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I am sitting at the bar of Prime 112 in Miami Beach, and I've smelled bacon as soon as I walked in the door. The group of us sit at the bar, it's too early for dinner, and I'm watching the wait staff prepare for later diners. I'm wondering what dish requires so much bacon to be prepared that the aroma fills the air like cheap perfume.
The bar maid finally makes her way down to me, and I order a martini. Coyly, I say to her, "Is that bacon I smell?" Without a word, she moves a large glass on the bar containing about 40 pieces of bacon six inches closer to me.
"Maybe it's this?" she says as she goes for the vodka.
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