Monthly Archives: April 2009

The Power of Perception and the Press

There is an apothegm that states “Perception is reality.” In other words, people act and react based on what they perceive, irrespective of a greater empirical reality. An example would be someone treading water when the depth is only four feet, because they believe it to be deeper. (I’ve done this, and I’d like to believe it’s more than just a personal character flaw.)

Some people perceive that they have no chance, so they never try. Others perceive that there’s always help, and they never stop trying.

Of the myriad influences on human behavior, perception is probably the one most subject to manipulation. The advertising industry is dedicated to such contortions, from The Marlboro Man to bottled water (New York city tap water regularly scores highest in blind tastes tests with bottled water). There’s “free range chicken,” and skinny models used to sell everything from automobiles to vodka.

I’ve written before that I believe the current economic circumstances are largely perceptual. There is a great deal of money around and some incredible bargains. Unemployment approaches 10% (5% is normal and really represents zero, since these are unemployable people by their own choice or through other circumstances). That means that 90% of the eligible population is employed. Once the perception is pervasive that the worst is behind us (and, believe me, no one in government or academia has a clue about what metrics make sense), the economy will rebound. I’m betting it’s sooner, not later.

Any number of causes, both legitimate and bogus, are fostered and exacerbated by stroking perception, not necessarily by examining empirical evidence. I don’t care whether it’s the threat of the swine virus, global warming, recycling, the Loch Ness Monster, home schooling, or the chances of being hit (again) by a wandering meteor. We are so self-absorbed that we seem to think that if something is happening during our lifetimes it is unprecedented, or must be our fault, or must be fixed by us. That is our perception. The thought that we just might be a part of larger, immutable trends is abhorrent. Our perception is that we are the center of the universe.

The press is often the initiator and instigator of these causes, no longer simply the reporter. Which brings me to last night.

President Obama’s news conference in prime time last night, was the least contentious, least incisive, least investigative in my entire memory, even for a new President. It was a tea party with visitors asking to pass the cucumber sandwiches and the host maintaining jovial conversation as he poured and asked, “One lump or two?”

At one point, a reporter for the New York Times, no less, asked a series of “what kind of tree are you” questions, highlighted by what most “enchanted” the President. It was one of these dull company picnics where the employees sit around watching the boss play cards with his wife.

Don’t misunderstand, for all our sakes, I hope President Obama is a raging success. He’s done pretty well thus far. But where is the question about whether Senator Arlen Spector changing parties abruptly is merely trying to perpetuate his election at any cost, ethics aside? What about asking, “Will you take military action if the Pakistani government falls and nuclear arms are plundered?” Or what about, “Would you like to apologize publicly here for the 747 that caused panic in New York, and who will be fired because of it?” And by the way, who on your staff vetted all those appointees who forgot to pay their taxes?

Perceptions are fickle, and both the broadcast and print press aren’t helping, in that they are increasingly taking political “sides” and positions on contemporary issues, outside of the editorial pages. It’s no wonder that newspapers are failing across the country. They are no longer doing their job. Broadcast news is scarcely better.

What perceptions are you validating or invalidating, and what perceptions are you creating and sustaining with your clients, your prospects, and yourself? Sometimes you have to ensure you are truly living in reality.

© Alan Weiss 2009. All rights reserved.

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Posted in Alas Babylon | 4 Comments

Facebook: Hiding in Plain Site

I’ve now “hidden” three different people on Facebook. (Hiding a face seems to defeat the purpose, huh?) I found this feature by accident, but it’s a great device because it enables me to shut down people posting like those fake chattering teeth that sit on a table in novelty stores.

I’ve lost total interest in linkedin (though I now have 67 billion connections, or whatever), and Facebook seems like a coffee shop I might spend five minutes in once a day (make the latté to go, please). It’s effective for quickly staying in touch with some friends and colleagues, and it can be pretty funny at times. But you have to be very careful with your basic sarcasm (someone commented that they were running an effective listening program, so I responded with “What?”), though that isn’t as bad as the sheer volume of others’ inanity.

Apparently, some people continually post their twittering, links, notes, pre-cognitive mood swings, and involuntary bodily sounds, all automatically. One guy just appeared 12 consecutive times over a brief time frame, narrating tiny bits of something he’s involved in as a constant stream of consciousness—or unconsciousness. (It was either “hide” him or hide from him.)

When my son said this was a huge “time dump,” he wasn’t just kidding. How much time is this sucking out of people’s lives?

I’ll continue to hang around, though I’m growing bored. However, I do, apparently, now have 54 friends, and I plan to ask them all for money, or threaten to post something every nine minutes.

Who knows? Maybe they haven’t yet found the “hide” feature.

© Alan Weiss 2009. All rights reserved.

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Posted in King of Social Media | 18 Comments

Free Mentor Program Teleconference

There will be a free Mentor Teleconference on June 26 at noon, Eastern. All active and inactive members of my Private Roster Mentor Program, past and present, are invited to this hour event. There is no need to register or do anything, and downloads will be provided following the session. Details will appear in the Mentor Newsletters, staring May 1.

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Maureen Dowd on the Twitter Guys

I don’t know if this works if you’re not a New York Times online subscriber (which you should be far ahead of being on linkedin or facebook or mymouth), but check out Maureen Dowd interviewing the Twitter creators:

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Tales of Unsuccessful Foreplay

It’s mating season here, and this is one goose who simply had had it.

© Alan Weiss 2009. All rights reserved.

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Some Intellectual Humor

Visit Emily Levine on TED and enjoy some outstanding insights. Click here to view.

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Posted in The Best of Life | 4 Comments

Attitudes for Consulting Success

1. In any times, but especially these, stop whining and find out how to get things done. Believe it or not, there is no one hiding around the corner conspiring against you. The solution is generally within your grasp. I love it when people write me and open with, “Your download doesn’t work,” or, “You’ve neglected to send what you promised,” when they actually failed to follow the download instructions or my email wound up in their overly zealous spam filter. My favorite: “You didn’t send the download within 48 hours, please do so immediately.” The problem was that the teleconference is still four weeks away, but she wanted the download within 48 hours of registering! I was supposed to shift time for her!

2. Remember that you influence change by appealing to the other person’s self-interest. If your starting point is that YOU have a great technique, or YOU need a favor, or YOU expect their support, then YOU have a big problem. What’s in it for them? If you find that out and begin with it, you’ll get their attention: “How would you like to decrease the costs of acquisition?” Recently, a consultant who had never written a book and has a “great” idea on his “specialty of the future” asked if I’d co-author a book with him on a subject I have zero passion for. Of course, he wanted my brand and my name on the book. He was irritated when I asked what was in it for me. That should have been his first thought before writing.

3. Outstanding problem solvers always ask this question: “Has this process (or procedure or initiative, etc.) ever been done to this standard anywhere, at any time?” If so, then that’s telling evidence that you can achieve it. If not, the standard may be incorrect. (“Day-one deviations are problems that began from inception and the performance has never hit the expectation.) Keeping that in mind, there are thousands of consultants doing very, very well in this economy in your areas of expertise. Consequently, it can be done. If you’re not doing well, why aren’t you doing better? It’s not an issue with the environment, the issue is with you.

4. Everyone laughs about the bromide of doing the same thing repeatedly but expecting different results. Yet many people quoting it are in the midst of the act. If you are not investing time, energy, focus, and money on developing yourself to master changing and complex times, how do you expect to ever do better? Doctors constantly take advantage of learning best practices in medicine and in their specialty. (Apparently, they’ve now learned to wash their hands.) What are you doing to master the best practices in marketing and delivery in this profession? Hint: If you have not substantially decreased your labor intensity in areas of your expertise over the past few years, you’re working in isolation and inefficiently.

What’s your attitude for consulting success? Are you following the same advice you’re providing for your coaching and consulting clients? Or are you advising them to do as you say and not as you do?

© Alan Weiss 2009. All rights reserved.

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Posted in Consulting Philosophy | 8 Comments

Alan’s New York Weekend

The limo arrived at 7:30 yesterday morning, and I caught the Acela to New York, absolutely filled, 43 people in first class, but two great stewards who promptly served breakfast. I get the last single seat, since the Boston crowd had filled the train before Providence.

The cab dispatcher at Penn Station was fantastic, and my spot at the half-block line takes only 10 minutes to land a taxi. The Mandarin Oriental’s lobby is on the 35th floor, and my corner room is ready. (Maria came down last night to attend a shower today with Danielle in Jersey, and she’ll meet me here later.)

It’s 74° and the streets are filled with performers, tourists, Central Park denizens, hansom cabs, you name it. A horse carriage driver agrees to take a picture of his two passengers as they alight, and he whips out two carrots to hold so that the horse will look at them. One woman walks next to the horse, and he promptly eats the carrot before anyone can do anything, thank you very much. As I left, he was eyeing the second one, and no photo had yet been snapped.

Barney’s has a lousy shoe selection, but Bally’s is two blocks down Madison and has much better quality. The sales people are great (you’re offered a drink, of course) and I chose a great dress pair of loafers which I decide to walk out with. (My wife hates the fact I can simply buy shoes and wear them immediately.)

Back at the Mandarin, I get a manicure. (It’s quite a process—$75 before tip—and you’re taken to a resting room with reclining couches overlooking the city when you’re done, I guess from all that stress.) I then repair to the lobby lounge, where I have their special Bloody Mary (“Seoul and Blood”) with a Bento Box of dim sum (which roughly translated means “touch the heart”). I looked out over Central Park and awaited my wife.

I didn’t see my wife again, however, until I was having a cocktail in Per Se waiting for our guests. She was stuck with my daughter in a two-hour stall at the Holland Tunnel. Eventally, we all rendezvoused by 6:10 and Per Se did its special thing: We had a window seat overlooking Central Park, and a 15-course, prix fixe dinner (you make choices about only three of the selections), and the sommelier was all too happy to match wines with every two courses. (One was a beer, unbelievably, a first for me.) Although Per Se has a world-class wine list (featuring an $18,000, 1900 Margaux), I prefer trying different wines that compliment each course.

At the end of dinner, the maitre d’ offered us a private tour of the kitchen, which features a huge, closed circuit television of their sister restaurant’s kitchen in California, The French Laundry. Kitchen staffs could watch each other (and the four of us) at whim. The kitchen was spotless and food preparation fascinating, as 14 chefs moved non-stop.

When we said goodnight to our guests and walked back to the Mandarin, we were shocked to see it was 11 pm! The restaurant had wined, dined, and entertained us during almost five hours of great conversation, never trying to hurry us, and treating us to a very special evening. If you ever get the chance, you owe this to yourself. There are only 16 tables.

This morning we attended mass at St. Paul the Apostle, the home church of the Paulist Fathers, established in 1858 in the U.S., and right across the street from Fordham University, one block from our hotel. The architecture is spectacular, part Gothic part Byzantine.

Then we visited the grandchildren, who are now eating (and frequently regurgitating) solid food, and we caught the Acela home, from which I am writing and posting this. Quite a weekend. We are blessed.

© Alan Weiss, 2009. All rights reserved.

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Facing Facebook

As the King of Social Media, I’ve now established myself on Facebook, following my venture into Linkedin. (Twitter is coming, but I have to limit my sugar intake or my teeth will rot.)

I find Facebook much more fun and engaging than Linkedin. (Which to me is like collecting things for no purpose, except that the “things” are people. My favorite: Someone I never heard of wanted to link with me because she “trusts me” so much. When I asked who the heck she was, she told me, “My employee sends these out daily for me, I don’t know why you were included.” You can’t make this stuff up.)

There are photos, running commentaries, and families reconnecting on Facebook. I get that. I posted some albums, kibitzed with family members, advertised my workshops. All free, all fine. I’ll have a double espresso as long as I stopped by. Heck, I visit my coffee shop with the dogs most mornings when I’m home.

However, there are people posting hundreds of times a day, often ten times an hour, sometimes two minutes apart. And that’s just in my tiny Facebook universe. Some of those people I know, and some of them are having marketing and business problems. How do you have the time to hang out in a virtual coffee shop all day? Some others, whom I don’t know and I guess are friends of friends, are “air time junkies,” who post inanities that rival Linkedin. This may be hard to understand, but I don’t care how you feel about Obama’s Mexican visit, even if it were a real bar with a real martini.

The appeal of “hanging out” during the day has traction, and it’s better than porn. (There is that great Avenue Q song, “The Internet Was Made for Porn.”) But it’s not better than building your career. I can understand this allure better if you’re freeloading on an employer’s computer, but not if you’re trying to build a solo practice and your boss is sitting in the same chair. I’d fire you.

When I first railed about social media and their lack of utility for building solo practitioner consulting business, the cultists were outraged. Seth Godin told me I wasn’t with it, implied I was just too old, and said I was missing the future. Well, I have seven books appearing over 18 months, my workshops are packed, and I’m speaking on three continents, so apparently I’m not that old and I’m enjoying the future. That’s because I don’t collapse with awe every time a new technology promises a few minutes of fun. (When people can’t argue with you rationally or intellectually, they call you “old” or “arrogant.” When people attack me personally, I know I’ve scored a direct hit.) Some people I see promoting these technologies have personal interests and investments in them, and that’s not objective advice in my book. I’m looking forward to Twitter, where one notable claims he’s following 93,000 people who are following him. That must make for a full day!

Once you’re successful, you have real wealth: discretionary time. At that point you can scuba dive in the Caymans, learn to fly, collect great art, contribute to charities, build new businesses, or spend all day on Facebook. But if you’re not there yet, you can’t do the first five things and shouldn’t be doing the last thing.

Let’s face it.

© Alan Weiss 2009. All rights reserved.

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Posted in King of Social Media | 30 Comments

Brown University: Would You Spend $40,000 to Send Your Kid?

Recently, the Brown University faculty voted not to observe Columbus Day, but rather to observe “spring weekend,” or some such thing. This was because some students were balking that old Chris was an oppressor. Never mind the fact that he suffered discrimination for both his nationality and ideas in Spain and overcame these to prove that you could sail west and find land, and that he was merely conforming to the social mores of his time when he met aboriginal peoples, since he didn’t have the benefit of being a member of the enlightened Brown faculty in the 21st Century.

And let’s not consider the fact that Brown is named after a descendant of one of the most heinous slave traders in history, whose family still retains wealth generated from those beginnings. Why not change the name of the university? Now that would be a remarkable act of social conscience. Of course, that could endanger endowments, faculty salaries, scholarships….. Okay, forget it.

I wonder how long before Brown’s faculty passes a resolution condemning the Navy seals, the U.S. government, and the crew of the civilian ship for killing poor, oppressed, maritime freedom fighters by shooting them to save the captain’s life? Stay tuned.

Is this where you really want to send your kid to be educated?

© Alan Weiss 2009. All rights reserved.

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Posted in Alas Babylon | 9 Comments