The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: March 2007
Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:
- Don't assume the other party is damaged or weak. But if you see incontrovertible evidence of that (e.g., they spread rumors continually), then never assume they are healthy and rational.
- The ideal in life is not perfection, but success. Therefore, anything short of perfection doesn't have to have an excuse: an illness, the environment, victimhood, nurturing, etc. It's okay to be human and less than perfect. It's not a "fault" that requires an excuse.
- Most (yes, "most") people who claim to be expert coaches and mentors aren't. Look for some evidence of: a multitude of positive references; published work with unique intellectual property; speaking appearances at major events; citations and interviews in the press. Don't fall prey to advice from someone who merely gives advice.
- Don't check email late at night unless you're expecting something important. An obnoxious, incorrect, or confrontational message can ruin your sleep and your peace of mind. You'll handle it better in the morning AFTER a good night's sleep.
- If you are an entrepreneur and/or otherwise self-employed, take some private time every quarter and ask yourself how (not "if") your work can be streamlined and made less labor intense. This vital aspect of life balance is virtually ignored, and with continually changing technologies, economies, and societies, such streamlining is easier than ever before.
- Surprising people with a great performance is far better than scrambling to meet the hype anticipating a great performance. I thought "Letters from Iwo Jima" was a good film, but not nearly what the hype had prepared me for, since every historical inaccuracy and mis-staged battle scene made me overly critical. (And that's why I forbid my introducers from using hyperbole when they introduce me.)
- A clever phrase is a clever phrase, but not always an accurate analysis. Newton Minnow's famous "vast wasteland" comment about television has not proved true, not as long as we can view "Rome," or live political debates, or a Yo Yo Ma concert, or "I, Claudius." Beware of sophistry. We sometimes allow labels to misinform us about contents.
- When you make a dinner reservation at a new restaurant, simply mention, "We'd appreciate the best table you have available." It can't hurt and it works more often than not. If you like the choice, tip the host or maitre'd. Next time you won't have to ask.
- If you'd like to learn history and sociology and have a great deal of fun, record and watch the afternoon movies on stations such as Turner, AMC, and A&E. The films from the 50s, in particular, will tell you a great deal about mores, manners, and mindsets, both good and bad, at the time. For example, people smoked like chimneys, but they also dressed for dinner and an airplane trip.
- If you want to try to learn something yourself, try teaching it to someone else.
Our white German Shepherd, Koufax, belongs to one of the three smartest breeds of dogs, according to American Kennel Club findings. But when you add in the speed and power of the breed, the animal is clearly number one in my book. Our Beagle, Buddy, who keeps him company, is a tough little dog who doesn't challenge Koufax's alpha status, but can rough-house and play competitively. He's the perfect buddy.
Beagles, I have learned, are crafty. Shepherds are sight dogs (by origin, they are herders) but Beagles are scent dogs, and Buddy can "read" the yard like you and I read newspapers. He's always looking for an "angle."
You cross a bridge about a hundred yards away to get to our house, and I've placed an alarm on the bridge which sounds an alert in our home, so that my wife knows when someone enters the property. The dogs, upon hearing the alarm, rush to a window from which they can see the bridge to determine how violent a scare to deliver to the visitor. Even repeaters, like the Fedex driver, receive loud remonstrance from behind the door.
However, when the dogs hear the alarm and spot the UPS truck, which arrives 3-4 times every week, they race to the door that our regular driver, Rob, uses. They make no sound at all because they know that Rob's uniform pockets are stuffed with low-fat dog biscuits, and they will get theirs once they allow Rob to deposit his packages. If we're not home, Rob leaves the dog treats on top of the delivery. Rob delivers in a suburban area of large homes, and he figures he meets 100 dogs on his typical route. He has created a wonderful non-aggression pact with all of them.
A few months ago, I went outside to greet Rob, and Koufax sat patiently beside me, staring into Rob's eyes. I noticed, though, that Buddy raced past to where the UPS van's door was uncharacteristically open and accessible. Incredibly, Buddy started negotiating the steps, no mean feat for Beagle feet. Rob and I yanked him out, the dogs got their treats and we parted ways: the dogs to dine, Rob to continue his route, and me to think about Buddy's mad dash.
It struck me that Buddy had reached the only possible conclusion that he could: Rob's job was to deliver dog biscuits at certain intervals, and the truck he drove was simply full of biscuits. The boxes he gave me were the biscuit stock that my wife and I keep in the house. What else could Buddy think? There is no other logical Beagle conclusion. Buddy figured he'd cut to the chase, and break into the Fort Knox of dog treats. Don I wonder how many of us are trapped in that Beagle logic? Do we view someone interrupting us as a pest, rather than understand they are seeking affiliation or approval? Do we call someone arrogant who is merely more confident and successful than we are? Do we see a truck filled with self-interest that is really meant to be shared with others? Don Buddy can only act on what he immediately perceives, but the rest of us can question and delve beneath the surface. Just because the driver has biscuits doesn't mean he's in the biscuit business, and just because we make money doesn't mean we're in the money business. Don I think Koufax realizes that Rob is there for other purposes. He just wants to ensure that his role is fulfilled, and that we're all engaged in our proper relationships. That's why, traditionally, the herders trusted him with the sheep. Don Don't lead a superficial life. Not everything is what it seems on the surface.
Charles Sanders Peirce is generally considered one of the most brilliant intellects in U.S. history. In the early 20th Century, he was a jack of all intellectual trades, a true polymath. He is credited with inventing the term and formulation of "pragmatism," among a host of accomplishments.
"Pragmatic" has a lot to be said for itself as a positive trait. I have become near-suicidal (alternating with homicidal) at non-profit board meetings where a discussion of how to close a $300,000 deficit devolves into whether t o charge $3 or $4 for a coffee mug to be sold to members. You would have to sell 200,000 of them after costs to close the deficit, so please pass the vodka.
I was in a conversation the other day with Senator Jack Reed's chief of staff. I was arguing that Blue Cross health premium increases were unethical and required a cap, else many people would die because they couldn't afford even the co-pay at an emergency center. The chief of staff was arguing about the need for Congress to pass universal health care legislation and how the Senator was a strong backer of such laws. We might as well have been talking Hindi and Urdu. I was concerned about an on-the-ground problem, he was concerned about an abstract political philosophy that will never be resolved in our lifetimes.
The result was that he didn't have to deal with my issue, I found him extraordinarily disassociated, and I'm going to seriously evaluate whether I support Senator Reed in the future.
When I lease a car, the dealer and I don't talk about a future when cars will have colors that can be changed with a switch, or financing that costs only $100 a month. We talk about the exact model and features I desire, what it will cost, and when, exactly, I can expect it. The dealer doesn't say, "Assume sometime this summer." He says, "We can track every aspect of it being built, and it will be within these two weeks of April."
There is a famous story of three people marooned after a ship wreck: a physicist, a mechanical engineer, and an economist. They are starving, but soon cans of food wash up on the beach. They want to open them without losing or spoiling the contents.
"We can light a fire," says the physicist, "heat a can until it's at 368 degrees, and the lid at that moment should pop but the contents remain inside if we remove it from the fire immediately."
"We can drop the can from a height of 18 feet," said the engineer, "and if we can ensure it lands on a flat surface, it will create a seam longitudinally that we can then pry open."
The economist then said, "First, assume a can opener."
Healthy pragmatism is important in an imperfect world. We don't need ideal solutions so much as we need solutions that work well in a certain time and place with the actual resources we have at hand.
"The race isn't always to the swift, nor the fight to the strong," wrote Damon Runyon, "but that's the way to bet."
I'm standing in a Barnes & Noble bookstore in New York with my family. We're all hunting down books in different areas. Suddenly, a man comes up to me with my book "Managing for Peak Performance" in his hand. "Are you the A lan Weiss who wrote this?" he asks, "And will you sign it if I purchase it?"
I glance around and raise my voice: "Yes, I am that Alan Weiss," I scream, "and would be happy to sign your book, of mine, that I wrote, which you have here." Then I asked, in stentorian tones, "Did you come here to find my books?"
He replied equally loudly, thinking I was hard of hearing at this point, "No, your son came up to me, handed me the book, as asked me to come up to you and request that you sign it. I couldn't very well say 'no' !"