"Alan Weiss is, without doubt, one of the most astute business people I've come across in the last 20 years."

Anne Miller
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Metaphorically Selling
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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: July 2002

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: Gluttony
  3. Musings
  4. The readers write

  1. Techniques for balance
    • Don't eat out of boredom. If you're on a plane or train (or at a desultory affair) find something to relieve the ennui other than a mediocre and unneeded meal.

    • Create two sets of Internet browser bookmarks (favorite sites): one for business interests, and one for personal interests, hobbies, vacations, etc.

    • If you've had a magazine, newspaper, newsletter, or other periodical for more than two weeks without reading it, cancel it. You're fine without it. (And don't be swayed by undeserved prestige. The Harvard Business Review at the moment, for example, would have to improve just to be mediocre.)

    • Never, ever complain to a functionary. The best person with whom to lodge a complaint is the president's assistant. You can usually easily reach that person, who will make sure the boss gets the message.

    • A prompt "thank you" note on personal stationery is often invaluable to the person receiving it. Err on the side of sending out too many.

    • When you buy something new, use it immediately, whether clothing, an appliance, or a novelty, because your enjoyment will be enhanced. There's nothing worse than saving something for "that special day" which never actually comes.

    • At the moment, California wines are terribly overpriced, French wines are at bargain levels, and the latter travel quite well. That is especially true of white wines.

    • Learn something about the local wildlife and take a walk or a hike. (Even cities have parks.) The local Audubon Society is a good start, as are various conservation groups. We were startled to see a deer about 50 yards from our front gate the other day, but the deer seemed nonplussed.

    • Don't self-medicate without expert advice, no matter what your mother told you. The local pharmacist is readily available and is skilled in providing the best over-the-counter relief for various maladies.

    • Ignore people who tell you to "travel light" and take with you what you need to enjoy yourself. Lost luggage is rare and insured, and hardly the end of the world. But suffering through a trip with insufficient essentials and variety diminishes the experience. The rarity of lost luggage is superior to the certainty of lost joy.

  2. The Human Condition: Gluttony

    I've been on one pleasure cruise in my life (not counting an Atlantic crossing on the Queen Mary when I was 17), on the SS Norway about five years ago. My wife, kids, and I were dumfounded by the ceaseless— and I do mean 24-hours a day—eating. The signature event of the food barrage occurred when I watched a man take video pictures of one of the buffets.

    Look around: There are "all you can eat" deals everywhere. Not far from my home there's a "World's Best Buffet" which offers the largest variety of food in the state for one set price. There is also a rustic place where they time you— your check is actually time-stamped—and you can eat everything you can for two hours, after which they throw you out (presumably with three strong men who are able to lift you). During this culinary orgy they wheel around an eight-pound lobster which is raffled off. If I ever won the beast, I'd use it as a guard crustacean, along with my German Shepherd.

    Why do people stuff food down their gullets with the intensity of erstwhile Hara Krishnas begging for funds at an airport? What is the gratification being served?

    Darned if I know. We live in a land of plenty, yet "bigger, larger, and more frequent" seems like the basic value system. I've eaten in restaurants where the pasta main course could easily feed a family of four. I've been in steak houses (and so have you) where it is expected— expected—that you will bring home the old doggy bag, actual doggy waiting or not. Chinese restaurants, in which I only wish I could purchase stock, have blossomed with the advent of the "all you can eat" dinner buffet. The Scandinavian smorgasbord pales in comparison. (And I've eaten many a meal in Scandinavia, where no one tests the tensile strength of the crockery by loading the plates with a metric ton of food. How much can herring weigh?)

    We seem to harbor a basic fear that what we have today may be gone tomorrow. I think this is a basically American phenomenon. Asians, Europeans, Australians, and Africans all seem to consume food, in my observation, in appropriate proportion, no matter how plentiful and delicious. It's ironic that, in this land of plenty, we seem to be perpetually afraid that there won't be plenty more.

    My theory is that we have the profligate tastes of a people blessed with perceived unlimited resources. We feel that consumption is the ultimate loyalty. We waste more food than many people actually consume. After all, why does an "unlimited resource" have to be preserved?

    Brunch buffets have sprung up all over the land, in everyplace from local diners to Ritz-Carlton Hotel main dining rooms. They are orgies of excess, like a bad mafia wedding. And most of the trenchermen loading up the plates are engaging in more weight lifting and exercise in merely carrying their food than at any other time during their week. We are stuffing ourselves into immobility.

    I think the days of surfing the 100+ cable TV channels may soon be over. Because, despite sophisticated remote controls, pretty soon on one's going to be able to lift a finger.

  3. Musings

    A woman "unsubscribed" to Balancing Act the other day (we have about one person departing for every 50 joining) and kindly told me the reason was that the newsletter was "entirely my opinion." Guilty as charged. That's why the price is so good.

    I've always placed a high premium on my opinion, and you should, too. I mean, think about it: Why would anyone have to try to sell you stock if their own opinion were really so good (they should be a kibillionaire and not have to sell anyone anything)? How many editorial writers are taken to task after their opinion about a government initiative or corporate strategy proves to be entirely misdirected? (Exactly none.) Which art critics are force to eat crow when the public decides that the play/ movie/artistic endeavor/music album or other effort is a great treat?
    (Not a one.)

    Andy Rooney makes his living on CBS's "60 Minutes" with nothing but his opinion, which is in most cases (in MY opinion) prelapsarian and antediluvian. There are psychics giving their opinion for money (Why can't they simply predict and bet on the next Superbowl or Kentucky Derby?), and sports "experts" giving you their opinion of who's going to win with no more certainty than my dog pawing at the sports section. (I'm writing this immediately after a 70-to-1 shot won the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the "Triple Crown," which was a record payoff in the history of the event. Guess what: No one predicted it.)

    Your opinion is as good as anyone else's. My point is that those highly paid to render an opinion are merely that: well reimbursed biased sources, simply making more than you or I for essentially the same guesswork. I've never encountered anyone in the media purporting to be an expert in the stock market who makes even a scintilla of sense ("The market is skittish due to vague earnings reports and the presumption that the Federal Reserve is withholding judgment." What one earth does that mean??!!)

    The goal, it seems to me (viz.: in my opinion), is to listen to as many opinions, judgments, biases, slants, "takes," and evaluations as possible, and then arrive at your own opinion. There is no final answer written in the back of the book (as I had ardently wished during my 12th grade open book physics exam, my last science course, ever). Life is about opinions, and we need to expose ourselves to them WHILE RESERVING JUDGMENT AND MAKING UP OUR OWN MINDS.

    "Balancing Act" is indeed about my opinion. I respect my readers' judgment to analyze, digest, parse, eviscerate, and otherwise process that opinion against their own beliefs, experiences, and values. That synthesis should provide for a positive, invigorating, and constructive process.

    In the meantime, be aware that all of our opinions are important and constitute critical input for others. I'm extremely sensitive to that reality, and am resolved to give you my very best opinion.

    After all, there are more than 4,000 of you considering it at this moment.

  4. The Readers Write Alan,

    This note is not really a reply to the most recent Balancing Act. I am writing to thank you for catalyzing my thinking on how to improve my consulting practice while maintaining balance in my life. Most of what you have stimulated can't be known to you because it comes to me "offline" -- I'm never sure whether the insight came from a book, The Odd Couple®, NSA, or, of course, your wife. Nevertheless, I often hear a clear question or statement from you (in absentia) that helps me navigate the course I am on. So, thank you for the stimulus and thank you in advance for what is yet to come.

    On another topic, I am sure I am too late for your book, but I have had a couple of insights that mean a lot to me (and don't need to mean anything to anyone else:

    1. To achieve balance, you must set limits (on work, a time-wasting habit, avocation, etc.). However, you must honor your own limits or others will not.

    2. You miss 100% of the shots you don't take. (I think this originates with Wayne Gretzky, but I am not sure.) [One of my favorite observations—AW]

    3. Integrity starts with keeping commitments to yourself. Integrity underlies most values that are important (to me, anyway).

    4. If you find yourself doing something that you "should not" or that you "know" is counterproductive, examine your behavior for the underlying value of yours that you are honoring.

    For example, yesterday a colleague came in my office as I was about to leave. He chatted for awhile; I was late. I HATE being late. But I accommodated him of my own free will. The underlying value-- courtesy. Well, that ended up OK with me. I was only late for a time I had set for myself. On the other hand, when I call my mother when I should load the dishwasher, am I valuing my mother? Well, maybe, but I am REALLY valuing control of my time, independence, and a refusal to do in a timely fashion what I loathe doing. Let's be honest about it.

    I hope this provides some food for thought, whether for Balancing Act or just for itself. Thank you again for being thought provoking and helpful.

    --Paul Minton