Monthly Archives: July 2007

Victimhood (Yet Again)

A group in Africa asked if I would speak at what they claim is the first multi-national consulting conference they were trying to hold. I told them I would, that the fee was $25,000, payable in advance, due at least 30 days prior to the event. The leader of the event was a woman who thought I would be a key draw.

I put the time aside: To appear for a single day would require six planes in total and four days of my time, if I decided not to sightsee. As the deadline approached, I warned her several times that I would not come if she missed the payment date. She assured me all was well.

The payment date came and went, and I heard nothing from her. I cancelled all my plans. More than a week later she tells me that she’s having trouble with local bureaucracy getting the sponsorship funds released, but that I should come because it’s only a matter of time. I told here the date was cancelled, but that if she could get the money to me we could choose another date, farther out, and do it correctly.

Three weeks later she still doesn’t have the money, wants me to come anyway, and is blaming me for backing out!

I told her to drop the victimhood mentality, which is beginning to strangle more and more people. She should have arranged for earlier sponsor payments, managed the bureaucracy better, and informed me the day of the deadline that she needed an extension. Now she’s worried about being embarrassed by my not coming, and demands to know why I need to be paid in advance anyway! (It’s obviously not for the rent, it’s to ensure commitment.)

I’m not the World Bank making loans to impoverished people. I’m a businessman who treats everyone as an equal, and expects professionalism reciprocated.

We all need to stop making ourselves victims, learn from our own mistakes, and improve our lives. I have great compassion and provide funds in a minute for the victim of a natural disaster. I have no sympathy for someone who is a victim by their own intent.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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Nantucket Journal

Monday, July 30

We drove to Hyannis through one of the worst thunderstorms I’ve ever attempted in a car. For the first time in almost five years of driving Bentleys, I had to put on the rear fog lights. Fortunately, we left at 6:45 a.m. and traffic was light. Ninety minutes later we were at the ferry and I had the top down. Driving this immensely powerful car through the torrent was exhilarating.

On the boat, the car was wedged twelve inches from a tractor trailer, but everything was battened down and we had an almost completely fog-bound crossing at times, zero visibility, fog horn reverberating. Sort of chicken soup for the mole.

Driving off the ferry in Nantucket is one of our great delights. We drove the 30 minutes across the island on narrow, isolated roads to The Wauwinet, where we’ve come for 14 years. For the last 8 or so we’ve stayed in their largest suite, facing the lawn and the bay (the ocean is over the dunes on the other side). I often write early in the morning on our private porch, read the Times, and have coffee. Late in the evening I’ll have a cigar and brandy out there, watching the stars. Last year a gentleman coming from dinner along the path saw me in the dark and said, “It’s a rough life, isn’t it?”

Just down the road you can take four-wheel drive SUVs over the otherwise protected beach to the point, about a 40-minute drive, with tires deflated to 12 pounds of pressure to maximize surface traction. The Inn will pack a lunch and wine if you like. Fisherman out there pull blue fish out of the surf.

Nantucket is God’s country. Martha’s Vineyard is very much a populist place, with some pubic beaches like Coney Island. But Nantucket is Gatsbyesque. No beaches are crowded (since most are private); the middle of town retains it famous cobblestones (which played havoc with the Ferraris); strict zoning controls the color of all homes. The coast is lined with seven-figure dwellings. Sail out from our room here for a half-mile and Roger Penske’s $28 million mansion looms.

We have lunch on the lawn: Burgers made of Kobe beef and pulled pork. Everyone here greets us by name.

Tonight is our traditional first-night dinner at Toppers, the very high-end restaurant here with a gargantuan, award-winning wine list and great food. At the bar, where I regularly meet fascinating people and celebrities (Ted Kennedy is not an unusual visitor during cocktails), you can get an 1870 Madeira BY THE GLASS. I have a nightly martini with blue cheese-stuffed olives while I wait for the lovely Maria to primp.

Dinner is wonderful, steak tartar followed by suckling pig. An astounding 1994 Hermitage from Jean-Louis Chave, a family making wine from the 15th Century, so they have learned a thing or two. I’d put this in my top five all-time wines. After dinner, I adjourn to our porch to have a Montecristo #2 with a glass of 1929 Maury, from a freshly opened bottle, no less. I chat with an after-dinner passersby, under the stars. The actress Romy Schneider dined nearby with a particulary obnoxious independent film producer whom I met in the bar and couldn’t get away from fast enough.

But, overall, just an extraordinary day.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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The Crash of 2007

Dear Visitor,

My name is Chad Barr and I am the implementer and moderator of Alan’s Blog and Alan’s Forums.

We have just recovered from a serious hardware malfunction to our dedicated Internet server, which hosts this blog, our company web site and many of our clients’ sites. Unfortunately, our disk drives crashed, bringing our server down on Friday Afternoon. We then had to rebuild the server and reload it from scratch using our backups. Quite a few challenges along the way, great and dedicated staff working on our server for the past 20 hours, and I am glad to report, the server is back up and running since midnight EST Saturday 7-28-07.

The good news is that we are back in business and all of Alan’s content is back online.
The bad news, I am sorry to report, is that we have lost all visitors’ comments to Alan’s posts on this blog.

Although it is not usually a challenge when backing up normal web sites, since they usually do not change that often, it is quite a challenge when backing up live and dynamic databases such as this organic blog.

This experience will force me to re-evaluate our backup and recovery procedures and improve wherever possible so this does not happen again. This to me is an example where 80% is not good enough.

I personally am sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused and would like to encourage you to visit often, interact with Alan and post your comments again.

Sincerely,

Chad Barr
President
CB Software Systems, Inc.

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The Strategist with Alan Weiss

A day of strategy with me on October 29, first come, first-served, optional half-day on the 30th. Email me if you want to beat the crowd. This goes up on my site on July 27.

Strategy Formulation and Implementation
One Time Only, with Alan Weiss

Date: Oct. 29, 2007, 9 to 4:30.
Optional second day: Oct. 30, 9 to 12.
Location: Newport, Rhode Island (facility to be announced).

I’ve been asked (berated) to provide formal strategic thinking skills (note that I don’t say “strategic planning,” because it’s an oxymoron—you’ll learn about this in the session) to consultants, coaches, and facilitators.

I’m going to do this one time, because I swore I was giving up one-day workshops. This is for any consultant or speaker who anticipates they will be discussing strategy with key executives, and is a “must” when accepting projects to assist with it.

I will use case studies and my favorite strategic model to provide you with an effective, rapid, provocative approach to generating strategic consensus and accountabilities for implementation. We’ll also deal with comparisons of other strategic approaches (including the dismal and pathetic SWOT analysis) and other superficial alternatives.

There is a full day, and an optional second, half-day.

You will leave the session with:
• Clear ability to separate strategy and tactics with clients instantaneously.
• Models which allow you to involve the client in the diagnostic quickly and credibly.
• Techniques to develop the primary and essential drivers of an organization, and how to avoid an unconscious “default” setting.
• Approaches to “test” and validate strategy before implementation.
• Key implementation steps, since most strategy fails in the implementation, not the formulation.
• Application of strategic principles to actual companies, non-profits, and governmental units.
• A sample strategy document.

If you choose to attend the second day, from 9 to noon, we will apply strategy to either your own practice or one of your clients, in a smaller group. This will be a more intimate discussion using personal examples.

Preparatory work includes three books and personal forms to complete. There is additional prep work for the second, half-day.

Fee: $850 for day one. $1,100 for day one and day two.
Mentor Members: $650 for day one. $900 for day one and two.
SAC Members: $750 for day one. $1,000 for day one and day two.

First come, first-served. The second half-day will be more limited seating. This is non-refundable, but you may apply the full amount to any future workshop/classroom offering of mine. The first 10 people who pay an extra $200 (above the respective fees) can have dinner with me (and on me) after the first day. That money will be matched by me and donated to the East Greenwich Animal Protection League.

Dress is casual. Intellectual growth is acute.

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To Live Large, Think Big

If you want to live large, you have to think big.

That’s irrefragable.

As consultants, we can’t simply respond to a prospect’s arbitrary request for an alternative. We have to seek the true objective and provide better alternatives.

If there is as much sweat equity in a $100,000 sale as there is in a $10,000 sale, then why bother pursuing the latter, when the same work can result in the former?

Why would you ever suggest a pilot, a needs analysis, or a “free sample,” when they are totally unnecessary to get the sale, and they more often lead to no business than good business? Why would you “audition” for the HR department, when no one respects them and you’ll then be seen as their peer, not the executive’s peer?

Too many consultants fold and cave when a client says, “This is our payment policy,” instead of replying, “That’s interesting, but here is MY payment policy”? (I heard just today of a client who pays “70 days, net of completion.” Sorry, but you’re not paying me that way.)

When a client says, “I don’t know the answer to that,” our response should usually be, “Well, you should, so that’s part of the problem, isn’t it?” instead of hurrying to rush on and not embarrass anyone.

You have to be able to say to a pleased client, “Glad you’re happy, let’s talk about some referrals, because those are the coinage of my realm.” (Okay, you may not be as poetic as I, but you get the picture.)

When a prospect says he has no money, come back next year, consultants pack the portmanteau and catch a train north. The proper response is, “This isn’t about money, this is about return. You have no time or interest in return this year?? How do you run your business if not in terms of ROI?”

If someone isn’t a buyer—they can’t authorize a check by themselves to pay for your value—you should only be talking to them long enough to find out who the real buyer is and where she lives. Harsh? No. Appropriate.

Consultants need to think big, otherwise, they aren’t capable of providing major improvements to clients and a better life for themselves. They won’t be able to live large.

That’s irrefragable, man.

© Alan Weiss, 2007. All rights reserved.

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Being Rich Is Not Being Wealthy

You can always create more money, but you can never create more time.

The key to real wealth is the ability to create and allocate discretionary time. The freedom to work or play, laugh or sing, rejoice or grieve, as we see fit when we see fit, is the real indicator of true wealth.

Money is merely a means to an end. Although I write books with “mercenary” titles, such as Million Dollar Consulting, the truth is that money simply fuels our lives. Too many people maximize their intake of money but lead boring, horrible lives. If you’re making millions, but seldom see your family and take calls 18 hours a day, and haven’t seen a play or a sunset in two years, you’re poor.

Wealth means the ability to support the lifestyle you choose, which is balanced and nourishing. It’s the ability to say “no” and the ability to fire a client or walk away from a job. It’s the antithesis of “quiet desperation.” It’s a life of no whining.

Money can pay bills but wealth provides happiness. Therefore, managing money, saving money, allocating money, contributing money, and so forth and so on, should be done commensurately with your personal determinations about wealth in your life. Arbitrary advice, such as creating trusts for children, may not make sense if you’d rather spend the money to enjoy common experiences with your children in the present and believe that leaving a large legacy is not part of wealth. Buying property, fixing it, and turning it over for a profit may be a lucrative business, but if it consumes you and doesn’t add to your real wealth, why do it?

TIAABB: There is always a bigger boat.™ I’m convinced that an incessant drive for the biggest and best, largest and showiest, is not about wealth but about insecurity. We all probably desire nice things. I know I do, and I often acquire them. But they are part of my wealth philosophy and not in response to someone else’s. There will always be a larger home, a more expensive car, a grander vacation, a greener lawn. I don’t care.

Amassing large amounts of money for its own sake is about competition and battling personal demons. Using money to enhance your personal idea of wealth is about self-actualization and true happiness.

I could make more money, if I chose, but at a cost that would decrease my wealth.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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Cape May Journal

Friday, July 20

Last full day! Started out windy and grey, but became better and better. Six consecutive, fine days on the beach. That’s not bad.

The “escalation specialist” from Verizon actually called me this morning, talked to me for 60 seconds, asked me to do three things, and my gizmo is working again, though I’ll miss the Internet café, which had fine iced latté. Why couldn’t the original three people I talked with have given me the same simple instructions?

I have an admission to make. I’m a superb Hearts player. This is a great card game that doesn’t require the anal-retentiveness of bridge nor the supercilious attitude of poker. Through the years, staring in the 70s at Prudential, my record must be something like 675 and 7.

I tell you this because I’m even better at something else, and I’ve never made this public: I have a perfect record in the boardwalk game of Whack-A-Mole, all up and down the Jersey shore. Perfect. Batting 1.000. I’ve never missed a mole. And I’ve never used steroids.

People respectfully gather behind me and men raise their arms for quiet as they do for Tiger Woods with a difficult one-iron shot (whose respective record can’t match mine). My wife stands next to the machine and mutters, “Who, exactly, are you pretending to whack?” but the crowd quickly shushes her. The machine disgorges countless tickets for plastic combs and rubber snakes, which I magnanimously give away to small children and pretty women.

So, in the pantheon of gamers, I subscribe to Frank Lloyd Wright’s great observation: “I’ve often been asked to choose between hypocritical humility and honest arrogance, and have never seen reason to choose the former.”

Dinner tonight at the Ebbitt Room in the Virginia Hotel, small, romantic, classy, with a small combo. Great food, and a burgundy from the reserve list, a 1976 Robert Ampeau Volnay-Santenots. Andrew, our waiter, informs us that he wasn’t born in 1976, and I inform him that this information could affect his gratuity. He suddenly remembers he was born in 1966, but is somehow only 22.

Walking to our room, we spy a young couple on a low balcony, overlooking the parking lot. Perhaps the worst room in the place. But they have a small radio and two glasses of wine. My wife observes, “When you’re young and in love, anyplace can be romantic.”

And, finally, an Ashton Zino Platinum, one of the consistently finest cigars anywhere.

I’ve always maintained that you should look forward to going on vacation and look equally forward to going home. Tomorrow we point the car north, hit the open road, and continue our great adventure.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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Cape May Journal

Thursday, July 18

Another great day, rained late, over dinner, so we ditched plans to drive up to Wildwood, where we used to take the kids and where Danielle won “Little Miss Admiral” at age 5.

Both my wireless connections and my Verizon Gizmo failed today. So I’m writing this in an Internet cafe using an Ethernet wire, with very helpful women behind the counter, chatting with my wife who’s coloring their menu for them! There is ALWAYS a way to make things work.

Dinner tonight at the Union Grill, large, ancient house, with barramundi as my main course (which I learned about during my many Australian trips—they call it “barra.”). A feature of our particular dining room: Two couples with men 20 years older than the women, and another couple who went outside to smoke between every course and after. (How can you taste anything?)

Tomorrow is our last full day here. We looked at a proposed fractional time share with three bedrooms, due in 2009. But I don’t see us taking three weeks or more here. Only 40 units, oceanfront, private club. If it were in Nantucket (see the Nantucket Journal in two weeks) that would be a different story.

I remember when I left a consulting firm in 1983, and then was fired as CEO of the one I went to in 1985, we took our usual sojurns to the Jersey shore and I floated on the waves, looking at the horizon, and I guess Spain beyond, wondering what would become of me.

I still float and wonder, but with eager anticipation and a sense of great gratitude.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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Cape May Journal

Wednesday, July 17Horrible early morning, we considered driving north the 40 minutes to Atlantic City and the casinos. There was a tornado watch to the north in the state! But we tried the beach, only about five of us, and the skies cleared. (And the hordes came.)

The traditional large seagull is not commonly seen here—the herring gull (sardinius gullibilum). It has been supplanted by the smaller, more aggressive laughing gull, characterized by a scream which is a cross between Phyllis Diller and getting your finger stuck in a door. (The laughing gull is, technically, a tern, but I digress.)

There was an uncommon number of both gulls on the beach by late morning, and then I realized why: For some reason, there were far more small children than on prior days. (Do people begin vacations on Wednesdays?) The gulls understand that the kids spill food, and they are quick to dive-bomb any scraps and leftovers. Not a bad synergy. Clean beach. Except then the largest gulls head for my car. I’m positive one dropped an egg.

The dolphins must have known about the kids, because one big one, maybe eight feet long, slinked by about 10 yards off shore in about five feet of water. The kids went crazy. (So did their parents.) I raced to the water’s edge, hit the power button on my camera, turned it “off” by so doing, and failed to take a picture. (I pretended I got a great shot.)

We’re going to the Lobster House tonight, which we’ve never visited. My take is that it’s a vast warehouse of a restaurant where everyone is eating with their fingers and tossing food, while drinking cheap beer. But several people have urged us to go. So the next paragraph will be written upon our return.

Well. The Lobster House is on the marina where the fishing boats are kept. It must seat 600 people (the guy at the door didn’t know). The attractive women in the place were so tough they could have bench-pressed me. Our waitress has been there for 14 years. Looking around, she said, “It’s not that crowded.” People were waiting outside to be called, but they had a table open for two. (The parking lot consumed about five acres. Luckily, an enormous SUV—a Chevy Torquemada—pulled out as I dawdled past, and I had a space the size of Lichtenstein. I set all three alarms plus the self-defense system. Essentially, the car was on defcon3.)

The Caesar salad came with anchovies without our asking, and my four-pound lobster was steamed very nicely. The Pinot Grigio was from March, but that was not a bad month. As we left, even the illegal parking spaces, with threatening signs depicting tow trucks and German Shepherds, were occupied.

I’m not hurrying back, but I can say I was there.

Herring gull on the left (sardinius gullibilum), and black-headed laughing
gull on the right (tête-noir-screamus).

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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United Parcel Service Doesn’t Just Deliver

Over ten years ago I asked UPS to stop sending me a bill every time I requested a pick up, which was often more than once a week. They told me they could bill me once a month (28-day intervals) but that I had to send a $100 “deposit.” I did so without thinking about it to avoid the bother of the multiple bills.

For some strange reason last week, I began to think of my $100 (perhaps a delayed drug effect from the 60s?). So I contacted UPS, and a functionary explained that the $100 is not returned “unless the account is cancelled.” Think about that.

Let’s assume that UPS does business with, say, 200,000 small businesses in the country from which they’ve requested this “deposit.” (There is no “deposit” if you agree to electronic funds transfer automatically.) That is a grand total of $20 million. (Check my math.)

AT that rate, UPS has a “float” of $20 milion in “deposits” from small businesses, just to bill them monthly, the way Fedex does but Fedex does so WITHOUT requiring a “deposit.” Nor do most service providers demand a “deposit,” especially after a period of reliable payments.

At even 2% a year, that $20 million throws off $400,000, enough to at least pay for some of the fringe benefits of the CEO, I would suspect. Since most small businesses probably expire without requesting their deposit back (death, purchase, retirement, simply forget about the payment made years ago, etc.), UPS gets to keep a large amount of the principal, as well.

UPS doesn’t just deliver, they KEEP! I wonder if this would pass the “smell test” of appearing in the Wall Street Journal? Does UPS really need to keep a “deposit” from small businesses, and if they do, it can’t be cerdited or refunded after a year of prompt payments?

The UPS guy usually brings my dogs biscuits, which I thought was a nice gesture. Given the predatory nature of UPS management policy, maybe he’s actually sharing his lunch.

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