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

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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: June 2006

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Vacation Techniques for Balance
  2. The Human Condition: Generalizing from a Specific
  3. Musings
  4. ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department

  1. Vacation Techniques for Balance

    Since many people take traditional summer vacations (and my apologies to my antipodal friends "down under" who are entering winter, but this still applies), I've decided to focus on that this month, as I've tended to do around this time.

    • If you have kids, plan activities with them AND without them. The chances are that they'll have more fun that way, but you owe it to yourselves not to be chained to children at all times. It doesn't mean you love them less.
    • Call the hotel ahead of time—even in another country—and ask about the essentials: Anything new (construction), sights to see that require reservations, good restaurants, Internet connections, electricity outlet configuration, monetary conversions, and so forth. (The person at the desk or the concierge will always be better than the Internet for these things.)
    • Do use the Internet to find the weather forecast, best or most scenic routes, recreation opportunities, and so on.
    • Understand clearly what you can take in and out of the country. Sometimes, foodstuffs are banned; usually, lighters are forbidden, even in checked baggage; medicines often require documentation from a doctor; a new camera or watch may require proof that you purchased it before the trip.
    • It's quality, not quantity. Taking dawn-to-dusk excursions four days in a row is my idea of work, not vacation. You don't have to see everything. You can always return.
    • Don't change your basic habits. If you've been successful on a certain food regimen, why abandon it? You can probably continue it wherever you go. Take your workout gear, because nearly all hotels have clubs and exercise facilities, or access to them.
    • Stop making yourself feel guilty. There is NOTHING wrong with checking business voice mail and email if you simply work it into your day when convenient. Conversely, there is NOTHING wrong with not checking it if you've arranged for messages to be covered in another manner. Just because you return a phone call to a key client doesn't mean you've sacrificed your vacation.
    • Try new stuff. We met a woman who refused to eat anything but pasta no matter where she traveled in the world. It wasn't dietary, it was just her preference. That's not very exploratory (or, for that matter, appetizing) in Germany or China, for example.
    • Keep your passport up to date. Not only do you need it for security checkpoints and other countries, but many countries which require visas won't grant one if your passport has less than six months before expiration. You can now acquire new passports by mail, and also on an expedited basis by courier.
    • This applies to my American compatriots: Despite the proliferation of the dollar and American English, and even of American culture in some circumstances, the world is not American. Don't expect that everyone will be fluent in English; or that the dollar will be readily accepted; or that your habit of eating dinner at 5:30 can be naturally accommodated; or that the t-shirt with the clever saying, shorts, and flip-flops will be considered a fashion statement. Pretend you're a guest, not an obnoxious cousin.

  2. The Human Condition: Generalizing from a Specific

    The coordinator of an association for which I spoke in San Francisco asked me if she could offer some "constructive feedback." Before I could gather the oxygen to say, "No, thanks," she proceeded to do so.

    "You ought to cut back on the satirical comments," she opined, "since that New York humor doesn't play all that well here in California."

    "Really?!" I responded, having spoken in California for a decade and having lived outside of San Francisco for two years. "What is your evidence of that?"

    "Well," she lowered her voice to confide, you received a perfect score of "10" on 198 of the feedback sheets, but only a "9" on the other two, and both of those respondents said you were too sarcastic."

    I then decided to release the dogs. "If you think I'm changing my style based on 1% of the audience feedback, you're out of your mind. Maybe those two need a better sense of humor." As I departed, she was having trouble closing her mouth.

    Two weeks ago I gave someone some advice about an idea he ran past me, telling him that it wouldn't work and giving my rationale. He said that he knew it would work, and just wanted some ideas from me as to how to refine it.

    "Why are you so sure it will work when you've never done it, I can't think of an instance where this has been successful, and I'm more expert in this area than you are?"

    "Because," he said, "two human resources people at the ASTD meeting told me that it was a great idea and I should pursue it!"

    "With that kind of endorsement," I pointed out, "you'd probably be safe taking a second mortgage, selling your possessions, and risking everything on it." He smiled, Now my mouth was wide open.

    Merely because one person has told us something is yea or nay, one group has said up or down, or one experience has been terrific or terrible, is not sufficient evidence or validation to make any final decisions. Add to that the fact that friends try to insulate us from bad advice, many professional associations are little more than 12-step support groups, and we tend to hear what we want to hear, then non-validated, isolated positive or negative feedback is about as substantial as a line drawn in the sand below the high tide line.

    Don't let yourself be romanced (or discouraged) by singular feedback. It may be accurate or it may be asinine. How can you tell? Test your ideas, approaches, and methodology frequently, in front of diverse audiences or responders, who have nothing to gain or lose in terms of their feedback. Otherwise, you risk over-committing, over-investing, or arch-conservatism.

    There are a lot of negative people in the world, frustrated by their own lack of progress, hounded by their own demons. They are excellent at critiquing everything and can find fault with most. Fortunately, there is a simple antidote.

    Ignore them.

  3. Musings

    My late, great dog, Trotsky, was riding shotgun in my convertible one brilliant summer's morning. I had purchased coffee to take home, and Trotsky was carrying his traditional bagel, which was the bribe I paid him for not running into the coffee shop and simply taking what he wanted.

    His tendency was to save the bagel until we got home and to eat in it in the back yard or at the pool. He apparently needed a better grip, and he tossed it in his mouth attempting to secure it, but didn't compensate for the moving car. The bagel fell into the road. Trotsky, a 100-pound Shepherd/Husky mix, actually moaned.

    I did what any of you would have done, of course. I got him another bagel.

    I'm wondering, staring at the Venezuelan coast from Curacao this afternoon, if animals have regrets. I watch the pelicans dive repeatedly for fish, usually empty-beaked after their crash landings. Are they feeling, "Darn, another one got away!" (Or when they do catch a fish, do the rest of the fish wonder what happened to their buddy?)

    I don't know if animals contemplate death, but I do believe they know when they are dying. I would also think that they have no self-pity. Dogs are famously stoic about pain (just ask any veterinarian). They get on with their lives. They simply don't waste time feeling sorry for themselves.

    I recently spoke for Toyota, one of my clients. During the introduction to the day, the vice president running the meeting introduced one of the field people. I had met him before. He described calmly his several bouts with cancer, the loss of his leg, agonizing operations, and times he thought he would not again awake. Yet, he pointed out, here he was, going about his job, hoping for the best, and trying to get used to his prosthesis.

    He suggested that no matter how difficult a client was to deal with, no matter how unfair the competition, and no matter what the tribulations of travel, if he could get through his travails, the audience could probably get through theirs.

    We can't go around moaning and groaning with every setback. There is no one to buy another bagel for us. We need to say, "Oh, well, lesson learned, I'm smarter now." Otherwise, the pelicans would starve and the fish would be afraid to go anywhere.

    Self-awareness (Abraham Maslow's self-actualization, and Rheinhold Niebuhr's self-transcendence) isn't meant to be the ability to reflect on and to fear for our lives. It should be the unique sentience which allows us to improve our lives and the lives around us. The alternative to a positive view of life is too depressing to entertain.

    Oh, yes. In the future, Trotsky ate his bagels immediately.

  4. ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department

    A couple of weeks ago, just prior to Mother's Day, I returned from a client south of Los Angeles by taking the "red eye" back to Boston on Thursday night, because Saturday morning my wife and I were leaving for vacation in the Turks & Caicos Islands. My flight landed in Boston at 7:30 Friday morning, and the limo got me home by 9. Thus, I had a full day to clean up the mail, do some odd jobs around the house, pack, and be ready for our 5 am ride to the Providence Airport on Saturday morning.

    At about 10:15 Friday morning, my wife asked me for the phone number of the resort. I pulled out the travel instructions and copied the number. Just before returning them to my briefcase, I noticed an advisory: "Fly into Curacao International Airport." I froze, knowing enough geography to realize the Curacao is a different island entirely, and not very close to Turks. With a pain like an ice cream headache hitting me smack between the eyes, I called my travel agent. She had arranged the flights on my instructions, because we were visiting one of our time share partners in, I had thought, Turks & Caicos.

    "Yup," she confirmed, two different places. For some reason we still do not know, I had booked a time-share week on Curacao but made plane reservations to Turks.

    Flying to Curacao the next morning on a radically different route scrambled together which featured a dashing 40-minute connection in Newark, my wife and I were alone in first class. She looked at me after we were aloft and asked, "So, what would you have done if we had flown to Turks and there was no time-share resort and there were no accommodations?"

    "Easy," I said. "We would have purchased a home and I would claim it was a present for Mother's Day."