Monthly Archives: August 2007

Closet Compulsion

I am a practicing heterosexual.

I’ve been in the rest room of O’Hare Airport between flights and been propositioned by men. Of course, I’ve also been propositioned by men at the bars of some of the best restaurants in New York and San Francisco. As a woman friend advised me, “Gay men appreciate men. Take it as a compliment.” I have.

Women are propositioned by men at bars quite regularly, I’m told, as well as in a variety of other places, many being somewhat inappropriate, such as, say, the office. Some women have actually propositioned me. I’m assuming they had been drinking heavily.

None of us has called the cops, as far as I know. Why are we so obsessed with a senator’s unfortunate and stupid comments in a men’s room? Why is sex so threatening to us?

The local newspaper in this guy’s home town has been trying to “out” him, obsessively, for years. Who cares if he’s gay, straight, bisexual, or bi-coastal? This publication reminds me of Kenneth Starr and his mindless pursuit of Bill Clinton and the stained dress. Apparently, the only one in the episode more obsessed with sex than Bill Clinton was Kenneth Starr.

I’m not claiming that this senator is Abraham Lincoln, I only know that the voters in Idaho put him in the Senate three consecutive terms. If we hold our leaders up to a magnifying glass or under a microscopic scrutiny that virtually none of us could withstand, what are we left with? What kind of inspection does one have to pass in order to serve?

I can’t remember the last time I read a story in a major newspaper or heard a sound bite on network television about the great job some politician, or school principal, or member of the clergy was doing. The media seem to me as if they are crouched in the bushes, ready to spring on any real or perceived transgression. Their job has become one of destroying.

By all means, let’s expose the pedophiles, the thieves, the corrupt. But what is this morbid fascination about everyone’s sexuality or orientation? If, after three terms, a senator admits to having been bisexual, does that mean he hasn’t really served us well for the prior 18 years and we have to reassess his service to the state? The answer is “yes” for someone like the former governor of New Jersey, whose sexual peccadilloes involved state appointments. But does it matter for someone, heterosexual or homosexual, who keeps his or her personal interests behind closed doors? Does it extend to an ill-conceived public utterance?

Does it matter how many wives a male politician has had, or the age of the current one? Why on earth should it? Is the neckline on a woman’s outfit while campaigning relevant? Why should it be, and who says so?

We’re going to find something in just about everyone’s closet. Does that mean that they are all bad people and that we, the investigators, are morally superior? Or does it mean there are places into which we shouldn’t be poking our noses?

Where is Edward R. Murrow when you need him?

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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The World of the All-Too-Narrow Consultant

I heard a priest speak in church today, standing in the aisle without notes, alternatively citing Thomas Aquinas, a court case of ten years ago, Einstein’s writings on the curvature of the universe, and the reasons to suspect that God just might exist. It was eight minutes of fascinating points underscored by examples, and several people remarked within my hearing that it was an excellent homily. (By the way, those are the elements of the perfect keynote speech, as well, a theme supported by several key points which are brought to life through examples and stories.)

The difficulty with so many consultants, large firm foot soldier to partner, as well as solo practioners and boutique firm principals, is that they are not very well rounded. They can talk about models and matrices, but they might mistake Erasmus for a neighborhood in New York and they believe that War Admiral is a naval rank.

Lawyers hold my personal record for being the narrowest of all professionals, though I readily grant the exceptions which prove my rule. Outside of the world of torts and Lexus-Nexus (or whatever that is) they aren’t able to glibly discuss many things, partly because their educational preparation is about as wide as the change slot in a candy machine, and partly because the rigors of the profession demand that they immerse themselves in little else. I guess I want such a lawyer defending me, but probably not befriending me.

Consultants need to avoid this diminished world view. If you agree with me for two seconds that this is a relationship business, then you had better be able to forge and nurture those relationships through the ability to discuss a variety of topics that are interesting to the other person!

It’s ironic that a globalized world with infinite stimulii drives many people to learn more and more about less and less. It’s nice to meet someone, I suppose, who knows all there is to know about team dynamics or the air routes to the islands. But unless they understand how teams relate to the general environment, or what my personal vacation objectives and disposition are, I don’t want them managing my people or my leisure time.

I remember an insurance professional who told me that the insurance he had in mind for me was a bargain at $35,000 per year in premiums. “Only an insurance guy could say that with a straight face,” I said. “Do you think I don’t mean it?” he protested. “No, you mean it,” I said, “but you’re not talking to an insurance guy. You’re talking to someone who wants to protect his family but who has a multiplicity of goals and interests. I don’t want to buy insurance, about which you’re an expert, but rather to balance my future prudently, about which you know nothing.”

He didn’t get the sale, and neither will you if you don’t take broader views of your client’s condition.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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Consulting Opportunities

We here at the Wellesley Hills Group – www.whillsgroup.com – are adding a senior marketing/business development manager person, and a mid-level marketer. Do you know anyone who meets these profiles?

Senior Consultant: http://www.whillsgroup.com/pages/30277_senior_consultant.cfm – 8+ years of experience. Able to lead client engagements and teams for consulting, marketing and lead generation. Someone who would be credible with consulting, accounting, and law firm leadership.

Senior Associate: http://www.whillsgroup.com/seniorassociate.cfm – 3+ years of experience. Hunger and desire to be the best at marketing. Versatile. Smart.

Reply directly to:

Mike Schultz
Principal
Wellesley Hills Group
600 Worcester Road
Suite 301
Framingham, MA 01702

mschultz@whillsgroup.com
www.whillsgroup.com
508-626-9991 x205

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In A Rib Joint

Last night we had a compulsion for ribs, so we went to Smokey Bones, one of the best rib places around. Our waitress (if you are obsessed with political correctness, you may read waitperson or waitron or whatever waste of time you prefer here) had a great personality, was attired perfectly for the place (casually inelegant) and was clearly pregnant (see, you would have guessed it was “waitress” anyway).

While she was describing the specials, a young girl ran up yelling “Mommy!” and it turned out her daughter had escaped from her husband who was dining across the room. Cindy told us she had two children, this third one on the way, and she and her husband were planning and hoping to have four in total.

She did a great job, handled a lot of tables really well, and occasionally herded her daughter back to her husband.

I doubt that she and her husband were college graduates or that he held a white collar position. They were a two-income household, with Cindy holding down a demanding job with long hours while she is pregnant, happy as can be with her newest blessing. Not a complaint, not a whimper, not a whine. She had piercings and tattoos. She also had a great sense of humor.

(I remember once listening to a waitress moan about her life and her finances so much that I left her a $10 tip for our two cups of coffee. She pompously told me she couldn’t accept it. It seems to me that if you whine for help, then you should accept the help. But you can’t have it both ways: Take the alms or don’t beg in the first place.)

People such as Cindy make my day. They take accountability for their actions. They don’t expect to be helped by anyone but themselves. We’ve all had waiters who have bemoaned their pay, the management, or the fates for forcing an inappropriate job on them. Cindy appeared to be really happy with her work, which is important work, and which makes a difference to a lot of people, from the owners to the customers.

You never know where you’re going to find nobility. Sometimes, it’s in a rib joint.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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Abandoning Brilliance

Today’s Wall Street Journal excerpted a piece from Time Magazine that’s frightening: “How High-IQ Kids Are Neglected in School” details how U.S. schools spend $8 billion annually on educating mentally retarded students, but only about $800 million on high-achieving students.

We spend one-tenth as much on our all-stars as we do on our poorest performers. What athletic team would do well in competition with that kind of training regimen?

The problem is that organizational America does exactly the same. Training programs are overwhelmingly aimed at remedial skills and most management attention is focused on the poor performers. Bizarre, egalitarian notions of everyone in the workplace being “equal” have tended to obscure rewards for truly outstanding performance. Just as some schools, in the face of political correctness and shrill “multiculturalism,” have abandoned the recognition and esteem historically bestowed on valedictorians and those qualifying for honor societies, business has fallen victim to “team rewards” and “giving everyone a chance.”

(See my current video in my Writing on the Wall series, “Press One for English, Press Two for Common Sense,” for an example of Pitney Bowes sending out a recorded voice mail to its customers from someone with English skills so heavily accented that she was not comprehensible. [http://www.summitconsulting.com])

“The best and the brightest” has become stigma, rather than stellar. There are performers who stand out in a company, and there are employees who lead the way. They deserve not only recognition, but further investment in their skills and potential. By investing in the top five percent of performers to improve their results by a few percentage points, organizations are making a better investment than attempting to bring the poorer performers to “average” or the average performers to slightly above average.

Of course, the pursuits are not mutually-exclusive nor should they be. Yet the 10:1 ratio in the schools is probably just as bad or even worse in business. Rewarding the top sales personnel with a trip to the Caymans is not the same as also investing in their further development. I asked one executive years ago if he would consider sending one of this top business unit leaders to the highly-regarded Harvard or INSEAD leadership programs. “Why should I?” he asked me, “he’s already at the top of his game.”

Consultants should beware not to fall victim to this remedial tropism. It should not require an epiphanic moment for an organization to invest in its most valuable resources. We have to help them understand the ROI.

We have apparently lost our way, and no longer recognize brilliance, achievement, and merit for fear of offending someone, somewhere, at some time. So long as we provide the opportunities to achieve for everyone, we’ve done our job. But if we continue to refuse to appropriately invest in the best then we will reap the whirlwind: Vast landscapes of mediocrity where no one is motivated to take risk or stand out.

We are dulling our competitive edge.

“Let it be understood that we cannot go outside of this alternative: liberty, inequality, survival of the fittest; not liberty, equality, survival of the unfittest. The former carries society forward and favors all its best members; the latter carries society downwards and favors all its worst members.”

— William Graham Sumner
“The Challenge of Facts and Other Essays”

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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Why Would You Hire These Guys?

Iowa has recently ordered payment to stop for consultants A.T. Kearney after the state auditors found that Kearney was being paid more than the state saved in the project! And that was after the state kept lowering the success metrics to try to make it easier for Kearney. This is what happens when you send masses of people to justify billable hours and large fees. The large consulting firms are not driven by their services, or their markets, or even their technology. They are driven by production capability, no less than the old-time paper plants or steel mills. Get all those bodies working on something, no matter what….

Source: Consultants News, Kennedy Information, Peterborough, NH
603/924-6390 or subscribe@kennedyinfo.com

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Strength and Cereal

I was staying at a Marriott where a client had placed me, in the middle of the country somewhere. The club floor was quite nice, and I was having some hors d’oeuvres and a drink when a fellow walked in obviously straight from the health club.

He was about 40, had on shorts and a tee-shirt, had a towel draped around his neck, and he was obviously very much into body building. Aside from the inappropriateness of this half-dressed, sweaty guy amidst the tempura shrimp and Caesar salad, he was hard not too look at. Huge, well-defined muscles rippled. He grabbed a couple of bottles of water and left, clearly very pleased with himself by his perspiring entrance and exit. He swaggered more than walked.

The next morning, at breakfast in the club, he was already there when I arrived. He had on a business suit, but you could still see the evidence of intense body work. His arms didn’t touch his sides, but hung next to him in slight arcs like a gunfighter in a shootout, and he walked with a peculiar gait. He didn’t so much move his head to look right and left as move his entire upper torso.

Then, at this Marriott, somewhere not far from the Mississippi, occurred one of my epiphanies. The guy was loading cereal into his bowl when he dropped the spoon. And, guess what? He couldn’t pick it up. He made a half-hearted attempt, as though knowing what the inevitable outcome would be, and then nudged the spoon with his foot under a table. He could not sufficiently bend or stoop. He had no flexibility.

He was muscle-bound. He was so “strong” that he couldn’t lift a spoon.

The strength we all need is the ability to forge success in our lives, work, and relationships. An excess in any one part of our lives is almost always going to be dysfunctional, in that it will limit other, important parts of our lives. It’s a shame so many colleges have abandoned liberal arts educations, because what we need is a liberal arts approach to our lives.

We need to be very good at a lot of things, not superb at one thing and mediocre at everything else. Of course, if you want to play first violin at the symphony, you had better be superb at it, but not at the cost of relationships and a holistic life. (Read the biographies of people who were superb in one, narrow field, such as Vince Lombardi in football, and you find lousy parents, insensitive mates, boring peers, and people who are never personally satisfied.)

Being “strong” means being able to do what’s necessary for success, not having the most muscles or the most profound profile. You have to be able to eat your own cereal.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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Good Thing Those Transfats Are Gone

I was out on my errands today and realized it was lunch time and I was famished. However, it was teeming more than Noah could imagine, and I was dressed in raggedy shorts and a tee-shirt. Fine dining was out. I sought a drive-through, something with which I lack intimate familiarity.

I found a Wendy’s out on a major road and joined the queue. I seemed to have the only vehicle without visible rust.

Wendy’s, it seems, no longer sells burgers by the pound, or name, but rather by how much of the cow you actually want on the bun. There was a triple and a quadruple, with bacon, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and some kind of strange, runny ingredient, unless the rain was making the menu sign blurry. In fact, there were multiple signs, and they began well before you were near the inaudible ordering speaker. The choices were amazing for the diveristy of the hugeness. Fat Albert would have been bloated.

As I rounded the corner to more menus—sort of like being in Disneyland’s “It’s a Wide, Wide World”—I found chicken options so large that beaks and feet were sticking out of the bun and overlapping the pictures. The largest items didn’t even fit on the alloted menu space, and you had to assume what new food territory loomed to the top and right of the square.

Fries came in frightening sizes along with other “free” sides, which included what looked like an artificially enlarged baked potato, until I realized it was actual size. Drinks began at “gigantic.”

The guy ahead of me received his order in three bags, and his car developed more and more of a lean as each was deposited on the passenger seat.

I had a triple burger because it was the largest offering that I thought I could actually get my mouth around. (I was wrong.) They don’t provide utensils since these aren’t so much meals as fights to the finish. The women who take your money don’t look you in the eye, and the the ones who atually give you the food have a sort of pitying look on their face.

Good thing they got rid of those transfats, huh?

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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The Dog Star: Taking A Sharp Right

(The Dog Star is a symbol of power, will, and steadfastness of purpose, and exemplifies the One who has succeeded in bridging the lower and higher consciousness. – Astrological Definition)

At the pool today, the dogs were fighting and playing as usual when Buddy suddenly ran onto the lawn between the pool and the pond. That is unusual, because Koufax can easily run him down in the open.

Buddy was running for all he was worth but Koufax, resembling nothing so much as a Cheetah running after an Impala, was just about on him. Suddenly, Buddy hit the ground and came to a screeching halt. Koufax couldn’t stop in time, and ran right over him. By the time Koufax turned, Buddy had taken a sharp right and ducked under the bushes. It was a brilliant, gutsy tactic.

I’ve told a great many of my clients to “take a sharp right.” That means you stop a fruitless, agonizing run that you are bound to lose, and set a new direction for yourself. I’ve told clients who are number three in their industry—when the number one competitor was so far ahead as to be over the horizon—that trying to overtake them was worse than impossible, it was a criminal misuse of resources and energy.

Countless prior consultants at my clients have taken an inevitable pharisaical position: keep striving, cut costs, innovate, motivate, yada yada yada. My advice was to end the Quixotic quest and tilt at a windmill you could actually arrive at first, before the competition.

Hence, instead of being number three in the lawn treatment business, why not take a sharp right and instantly be number one in non-toxic, organic lawn management? Instead of being the number four farrier, why not be the number one in equine foot health? Instead of being a distant number two in water treatment, why not be a solid first in effluent management?

The martial arts specialize in using an opponent’s momentum against himself. That’s what Buddy did to Koufax, then took a sharp right. Koufax is still a larger, more powerful dog, but Buddy got to his destination first.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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Andy Warhol Rolls in His Grave

Here is just one verbatim excerpt from another PR “expert” apprising all of those on her mailing list (and anyone she can find—I never asked to be on her list and never heard of her before, so this is spam) that she can gain us wide exposure, for at least a few minutes. Have tragedy, will travel. But read the “expert’s” own language:

“Want To Be Everywhere At All Times? This media placement is excellent in that numerous media outlets are able to access the story enabling you to cast a very wide net in terms of exposure and just being able to say that you were an expert contributor in this syndicated news service will earn you lots of expert status! Want the edge? Want to consistently out-perform everyone else in your industry? Want to perform way beyond your competitors? If yes, then this one is for you. Use it to add power and prestige to your platform. Remember, what you are not doing your competitors are doing so they can have the edge instead of you. Play Back!”

Not a thing has been changed, including the wierd spacing, capitalization, and grammar. I may be a Luddite, but I’m just not ready to “play back.”

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