The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: June 2005
Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:
- Not everything is a learning experience. Most blogs are mindless streams of consciousness, for example. You're better off watching the ocean and thinking about your life.
- You tell me which is better: Briefly venting about a problem or a discomfort and then moving on, or remaining silent and secretly seething for weeks or worse?
- When you are nervous about an upcoming event, ask yourself what the worst that can happen is, and whether you can still live with it. In 98% of the issues, you can live with it, life continues relatively unscathed, and your stress will abate.
- Scratch an itch. If you don't like the bush in front of the house, pull it out. If your kid is engaged in an unpleasant habit, take action to correct it. If you want a steak dinner, make a reservation. We usually do more harm in the false elevation of denying ourselves than in fulfilling innocent desires and daily needs.
- Never, ever assume the other person is damaged. Someone said the other day that, in starting a project, she always considered that the person hiring her may be the problem. I simply assume that I have to find evidence and look at behavior, but not that anyone is necessarily a "problem." If you're healthy, why wouldn't the other person be healthy, too, unless there is evidence to the contrary?
- The "of the month" clubs (wine, soap, cheese, cigars, chocolate, etc.) are a neat way of introducing a treat into your life monthly even in a rushed life (or in the face of guilt about treating yourself).
- People in hotels and other service sectors who wear name tags do so for a purpose: Call them by name and you'll find the service slightly better and the willingness to help more innovative.
- You wouldn't give money away for no reason or throw it out the window. Why do you do that with your time? Don't allow people to force you to wait, or barge in, or stay too long. You're throwing your life out the window.
- If you feel you deserve rest, recreation, and respite, then you won't feel guilty when you engage in such things. You'll feel fulfilled. What do you believe?
- Every year, choose one of your favorite books from long ago and reread it. The ensuing time and maturity will give you a new and, perhaps, enriched experience. Seldom do great books disappoint on rereading (though mediocre ones will).
I enjoy historical novels and non-fiction because I think it's fun to imagine what life must have been like in various ages. When I was much younger, I thought that the excessive civility and manners of pre-20th Century life were as silly as trying to cure illness by using leeches.
Of course, we've more lately found that leeches actually work quite well for certain medical needs.
Calling people who are not close friends "Mr." or "Mrs." or "Miss" created a sense of immediate respect. I have to admit that I detest it when some customer service representative abruptly greets me as "Alan" on the phone, or a flight attendant feels entitled to become my pal (often instead of providing me with service). How can one assume such instant familiarity? It's actually presumptuous.
Perhaps the times "when a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking" are a tad too severe, but even as a man who deeply appreciates women, I'm bored and somewhat repulsed by visible bra straps as a fashion accessory, and visible, pierced navels invite me to lose my appetite. (Include pierced anything and tattoos. It may well be your body, but you're also in my sight line.) Commensurately, the site of a middle-aged, overweight man in a tee shirt, shorts, and flip flops walking through a hotel lobby ought to be considered a felony.
We seem to be in an age where misguided parents actually hold keg parties for their underage kids on the basis that it's "safer" to know where they are drinking (as opposed, I guess, to expecting that they might accept guidance and values about not drinking). I defy you to watch television for more than an hour and not find that at least 70% of the products being advertised use sexual innuendo (or blatant sex appeal) as the inducement. Forget about cable television, which is at least private and by subscription—I've seen highway billboards (which you can't choose to avoid) that wouldn't have been allowed in magazines once upon a time.
I'm not for prudish behavior nor for Puritanism (the dread fear that someone, somewhere, may be enjoying himself—H.L. Mencken). But I'd like to see the pendulum stop in the middle and not go flying off the cable toward the horizon. I expect to see skimpy attire at a public beach and no attire at a nude beach. But I don't expect to see it in a fine restaurant. (In the Bahamas, at Dune, the British Ocean Club's main restaurant overlooking the ocean, men must wear a collared shirt, long pants and no jeans. Yet women are allowed in with jeans and halter tops. Go figure.)
It's one thing when a restaurant hostess has a skirt on so short that she really can't sit down, because she's going to be standing all night, anyway. It's quiet another when it's a woman working in a corporation. Men in sports attire give me confidence on a boat or even in my auto service shop, but not in my attorney's or accountant's office. (My auto guys dress better, in fact, than most people who are trying to sell me something.)
Maybe it's a hopeless longing for simpler days, but I feel that, "Hello, Mrs. Quinn, it's a pleasure to make your acquaintance," somehow soothes more than, "Hi, howarya?"
High tea, anyone?
Ben Tregoe passed away a few weeks ago. He was the co-founder of Kepner-Tregoe, where I worked from 1972 to 1983, entering as a brash, immature, ambitious trainee, and emerging as a brash, ambitious, semi-mature consultant. I learned the profession on Ben's dime.
"Million Dollar Consulting" is dedicated to Ben, and it's entirely appropriate that the book is my best-seller, and one of the consulting profession's best-sellers, still going strong in the third edition 14 years after first publication. Ben had far more longevity and impact, though: He was as close to a genius as I've ever stood.
That's not to say he was an easy, nurturing guy. He could be demanding, tough, unreasonable, and stubborn (a combination, I know, we all find hard to believe). But before I even appreciated what I was experiencing—before the modern buzzwords of "life balance" and "self-mastery," "globalization," and "leveraging"—Ben provided a hothouse environment for the growth of bright, confident, talented, aggressive people.
We all traveled the world, because Ben believed from the outset that there were no geopolitical boundaries when it came to providing value. We roamed the cobblestoned streets of Frankfurt seeking beer halls, sat overlooking the Caribbean outside of Caracas eating squid cooked in its own ink, commuted regularly from Hong Kong to Kowloon on the Star Ferry to get to work.
We stood toe-to-toe with brilliance and buffoons in the executive suite, since Ben was most comfortable dealing with key people, and believed there was nothing at all strange about a former academic who owned a small business in Princeton, New Jersey entering into a partnership with a $5 million-a-year executive on Park Avenue in New York. I learned that those people were experiencing the same politics, emotionalism, uncertainty, and errors that were the front-line people, except that they were playing with a lot more money.
We advised IBM and GE and GM and Bank of America during the day, and sat around a night marveling at what we had done over a drink. We flew the world before frequent flyer programs, traveled into the backwaters of Mindanao and Columbia when terrorism was existent but unreported, and obtained audiences with global leaders and politicians because, well, we asked and never thought that we shouldn't.
Ben smoked cigars and drove a rattletrap Buick convertible (before he decided discretion was the better part of valor and compromised on a BMW after I began parking my Mercedes in the front lot). He wouldn't talk about his "research," calling it "too grand a term." He engaged in an active and fulfilling family life, and enjoyed a variety of hobbies (an exhibit of his photography was displayed at the memorial service).
Ben founded a company and launched an industry. He touched hundreds of employees, thousands of customers, and millions of people around the world through his work processes, writing, and travels.
But, mostly, he lived his life. He was 76 when he passed away, after a tough battle with cancer. He never complained, and kept reading, debating, and learning right to the end. He showed us how to live, he showed us how to die.
Lift a glass tonight to Ben Tregoe. Rest in peace.
ONLY READ THIS IF YOU KNOW ME WELL OR YOU'LL BE NEEDLESSSLY TICKED-OFF DEPARTMENT
Two executives from a prospect asked to visit me in Rhode Island at the same time that I received a lead from another major firm by phone. The executives arrived and I picked them up at the airport. Coincidentally, I sent a package to the other prospect just before I left the house.
I took the two executives to one of my favorite waterside restaurants, and was actually successful in engaging in small talk in that serene setting. After the main course, they asked what I thought of their company and what overall impressions I had.
I began with, "I think that Universal should be improving the brand…." when I saw a look of utter confusions on their faces. "What do you mean by 'universal'?" asked the president. I realized instantly that I had confused the names of this prospect company with the one that I had sent the package to earlier, and I could not for the life of me think of the name of the organization represented by two highly-placed people sitting across from me.
After two seconds of silence, the vice president said, "Oh, I get it, you mean that our brand, Acme, needs to be more universal, right?"
"Of course," I said. "I'm sorry, wasn't I clear about that?"
Two postscripts: My wife laughed so hard at dinner that night that the wait staff stared at us. And I got the business, a $125,000 project. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.