Monthly Archives: January 2008

Ya Never Know

If you don’t ask, the answer is always no! Listen to Alan discuss such instances that help illustrate that unless you ask … you’d never know.

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© Alan Weiss 2008. All rights reserved.

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It’s Probably Me, But….

Can someone tell me why the actor Heath Ledger’s death is as important, let alone more important, than the death of a single soldier doing duty in Iraq? Why does a millionaire movie star with everything going for him, including the luck of the draw, who takes his own life (advertently or inadvertently), merit more attention and sympathy than a lance corporal who left behind a wife and small child after he was killed by a remote bomb in a place he didn’t choose to be, fighting for his country?

Why was it a couple of years ago when two African-American contestants on American Idol were eliminated, Elton John called the voting “racist,” but when the ultimate winner was African-American, he had nothing to say? Why didn’t someone follow up with him? Why do so many celebrities get to sound-off and get press coverage on topics about which they know less than most ninth-graders, yet are never held accountable for their ravings?

Can someone tell me why Hillary Clinton, who claims to have been at her husband’s side and closely advising him throughout his Presidency, has never been asked to explain the reasoning it took to grant an 11th-hour pardon to Mark Rich, a convicted swindler and thief, whose wife continued to be a major political donor?

Why is it that teachers’ unions lobby and press for changes which, 95% of the time, are about the well being of teachers, and rarely ever lobby for improvements for the students?

What kind of dullness does it take to continue to channel 250 people and more through a single ticket collector to board an airplane? Why are we still in the “one-jetway, one door, one collection point” mentality of the 1950s? imagine boarding a train that way?

Did you know that the postal service faces tens of millions of dollars in suits each year from its own employees and unions, requiring more and more lawyers and responses, and less time and money spent on actual mail service? Wouldn’t it make more sense to attack the causes of the labor/management conflict, instead of arming for continuing battle? Has anyone thought of cleaning house and introducing all new management?

Is anyone else out there unimpressed with people who predict a stock market downturn for years, and when it finally happens they say, “Told you so!” I’m going to predict that someday we will run out of oil. Just stick around, and you’ll find I’ve been correct.

Why do we consider the dinosaurs “unsuccessful”? The Tyrannosaurus Rex, for example, lived for about three million years or more and was wiped out by an external event from the cosmos, not by a natural enemy or smoking tobacco. Humans are thought to be about 130,000 years old. Are you sure we’re smarter?

When the government funds itself on a deliberate philosophy of debt, why is anyone surprised when consumers do the same thing?

Shouldn’t the rebate being given to stimulate the economy, which is denied to people making over certain amounts, be granted to high wage earners as well, since they are the ones most likely to immediately spend it, and that’s the point of the stimulus program?

Don’t you think that if performance enhancing drugs really worked that airline CEOs would be buying them by the barrel?

© Alan Weiss 2008. All rights reserved.

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Risk It

What organizations are known for risk taking yet are afraid to take their own risks? What do you think of taking risks? Are you bold and willing to take on a few? You may want to get risky, and listen to Alan discuss this.

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© Alan Weiss 2008. All rights reserved.

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From “Sir” to Sister

Some of you may recall my telling a story about a woman I met in a class, Nancy Gucwa. She said her life was too uninteresting for public speaking. I proceeded to find out that she was in the first class of women accepted to West Point in 1976, became a cadet leader, and went on into the army as an officer–in the 82nd Airborne! She retires from the reserves after 20 years of service and over 30 jumps this year.

She has written me to inform me that she is now a novice at a Monastery in Missouri, becoming a Benedictine Sister. I’m hoping that some day we can find something interesting about her life to use in a speech!

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West Palm Journal: January 25

Heading home (two USAir flights, smack on time, thank goodness), here are some “snippets” of Palm Beach:

- In the elevator my wife encounters two men with some kind of automotive bags, and asks what they do. She’s told they insure high-end, exotic cars. “Would you insure my Bentley?” I immediately ask. “Only if it’s not your regular daily car,” they politely tell me, “it has to be an antique.”

- We find a beautiful, striking woman leaning on a man who looks as if he’s been run over by a garbage truck, awaiting their car one evening. He is totally unkempt, with tattoos running all over his legs and elsewhere. I tell my wife that he must be a rocker. The next day, while I’m chatting with the assistant hotel manager on other things, she casually mentions that the lead singer from Motley Crue is staying at the hotel. “Is he with a beautiful woman?” I ask. “Yes, that’s his wife,” she reports.

- Overheard at the pool: “Yes, he bought it for $86 million, and sold it this year for $121 million.”

- In the evening, only Bentleys and Rolls Royces are parked immediately in front of the main doors. The largest Rolls I have ever seen dwarfs everything else around. It is a monster, and looks like a King Tiger tank.

- Overheard at lunch, overlooking the ocean: “I was able to build the house for only $5 million, but it’s in southern Utah, and the area probably isn’t for everyone.”

- The entrees at the Flagler Steak House hit $50, and tea at breakfast is $4.50. There are many families with several children at the hotel and in the restaurants.

- My wife chats with a painter touching up our floor and finds that we are all originally from Hudson County, New Jersey. He tells us that his cousin had to sell his restaurant in Point Pleasant, at the Jersey shore, but would be moving to Palm Beach. “Did he sell for a fortune?” we ask. “No,” he replies, he barely broke even. But a month later he bought a $20 lottery ticket and won a million bucks.”

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. But we ought to strive to control the one that we can.

© Alan Weiss 2008. All rights reserved.
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West Palm Journal: January 24

Best day yet.

Fascinating to watch the pelicans skim inches above the waves, effortlessly adjusting altitude perfectly for a wave or rock. These are superb motor skills at work. I estimate that the birds are zipping by, with a following wind, at about 25 miles per hour. Touching a wing, foot, or tail feather in the water could create a catastrophic aerodynamic breakdown.

But on they soar, rarely flapping a wing, ideal thermals, I guess, inches from the brine. I’m thinking that what they are doing is exactly what superb professionals do: athletes, performers, surgeons, and, yes, consultants. Top performers viscerally react, they don’t analyze, call a meeting, or engage in self-doubt.

They call for the ball, throw themselves into the part, immediately tie-off a bleeding artery, and quickly respond to a client request with valued advice. The pelicans rely on their great natural skills and experience. So do outstanding professionals.

Analysis is often for protection and to avert all risk; meetings are ostensibly for “inclusion” but in reality are huge wastes of time, moving things from one easel sheet to another; and self-doubt is a huge sacrifice of time (I can’t readily thing of anything so utterly unproductive).

I imagine occasionally a pelican gets wet, and then realized it won’t be so catastrophic, since they are normally diving head first from 20 feet to catch fish. If they can survive that, they can readily take the risk of skimming the waves at great speed.

So can we all.

Dinner tonight at the Flagler Steak House with friends we haven’t seen in 8 years. I first met Bob when I was working in Princeton and he had a firm in northern Jersey.

Dinner is fabulous, outrageous steaks (welcome to the $50 entrée), with a 1990 Mayacamus cabernet, which is simply spectacular. Charlie Sheehan saunters by our table. Back at the hotel, bidding goodnight, there are two Bentleys and two Rolls parked in the porte cochere. One of the Bentleys is my model, in blue. A black tie event is just breaking up inside. We say goodnight to our friends and enjoy our final night.

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West Palm Journal: January 23

A great day until about 3. The water is warm, breakers are fun. When the tide ebbs in early afternoon you have to walk about thirty yards into the water before you reach at least five feet in depth, and that’s not as much fun. Scattered showers drive us in, so I catch up on email and some writing before dinner.

Dinner was at Café Boulud in the Brazilian Court Hotel. This is the chef who created Daniel, DB, and other great restaurants. Fabulous service through a beet salad, lobster risotto, short ribs, and rack of lamb. A very nice 2003 Pauillac accompanied. The general manager stopped by to ask about our experience in the New York restaurants and to let us know about a new one, Bar Boulud.

The Breakers is one of the most beautiful of all hotels, including its long drive to the porte cochere, and every night that the car takes us back from dinner I marvel at how fortunate we are. The inside is like a great European palace.

There are ups, and there are downs.

For a long time, a man in my online community has been forecasting economic downturns and chaos. Of course, if you predict anything long enough, it eventually happens (the Red Sox win the World Series, a woman and a black man compete for a party nomination, William Shatner turns into a fine character actor). Markets go up and down.

But this guy is a true zealot. His entire life is wound up in wave theories, and emotional support of debt, and other obscure and abstruse topics. Like any zealot, he must tell you everything he knows every time, complete with diagrams, graphs, and documentation.

So, of course, he made sure to contact me at this last downturn to tell me his predictions were correct about the market going into tough times. He is gleeful the way cynics are when the worst happens. He then went on to tell me that he had previously sold his house and all his assets, turning them into cash, and he was now waiting to buy others’ assets at rock bottom prices, since they could no longer afford to keep them or needed the money.

My belief is that we are all here to add value. We must contribute to the environment and society. Getting wealthy doing that (I write from my balcony at The Breakers) is perfectly fine. Choosing not to become wealthy in a conventional sense while doing that, is also quite fine.

But using resources to enrich yourself only while gaining through the suffering of others is appalling. I believe that spending your life tracking markets, or currency fluctuations, or oil futures merely to enrich yourself is one-dimensional, non-contributive, and simply boring.

Life is short. In tough economic times, we should be investing in ourselves and our businesses to provide more and more value to others, who are going to need it more and more. That’s a true exchange in my book, and then we derive the money which provides for real wealth: discretionary time.

I could be wrong, of course. I’m just a guy sitting at the beach.

The Beach
The beach

The Breakers
The breakers

One of the pools
One of the pools

© Alan Weiss 2008. All rights reserved.

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Selecting A Consultant

Should you hire a consultant with experience in your own industry? Alan discusses a list of items you must consider before you are going to hire a new consultant.

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© Alan Weiss 2008. All rights reserved.

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West Palm Journal: January 22

Dinner tonight with friends who live in an affluent, gated, retirement community, then dinner in the club house. Definitely not for me.

The engineer from Crewe, England, fixed my Bentley while I was away. It had refused to recognize any of our keys once brought in for service. They gave me a Bentley loaner, but it’s nice to see that kind of responsiveness. These cars are so complex that things go wrong with things that are supposed to prevent things from going wrong. What does it cost to fly a guy from England to reprogram your car, plus tie up the service facility for two weeks? I don’t want to know and I’m glad they’re embarrassed enough to want to get past it. They threw in a complete detailing and fixed a rim I habitually scratch up for free, as well.

Nice day on the beach with some trips to one of the pools (an “infinity” pool, which is kind of neat, with the water running into the horizon, so to speak). Lunch at the grill, outdoors, overlooking the ocean, with a foot-long hot dog. “I’m expecting that this is actually a foot long,” I kidded with the server. “It is when it starts before cooking,” he assured me, “but there is always some shrinkage.”

My wife stared at him, he lowered his eyes, and hurried away.

I’m used to the seagull who usually sits on our balcony railing, webbed feet and all, but when I looked up at a bird stationary in the breeze watching me write, it turned out to be a huge hawk. He gave me a smart-ass look and moved on.

Five calls on the beach today, two dozen emails tended to, and my work is done. Why do people have to swear they won’t do work on vacation and won’t take vacation during the week? It’s not a personal life and a work life.

It’s your only life.

© Alan Weiss 2008. All rights reserved.

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Miss America News

Ashley Bickford, Miss Rhode Island, whom I’ve been helping prepare for her Miss America interviewing competition over the past few months, won the preliminary swimsuit competition last night, and is one of the 9 finalists for the Quality of Life Award. Scroll down on the blog and you’ll find where you can still cast your vote for her.

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