Monthly Archives: October 2010

The Etiquette of Profanity

Do I have your attention?

I grew up playing ball in inner-city schoolyards, and played varsity high school sports using antiquated locker rooms and facilities in run-down neighborhoods. Obscenities were a mindless aspect of our existence, and most of us didn’t even think about the meaning of the words we were using.

Then, of course, I grew up, received a university education, and entered the world of business. During that time, I learned to successfully modify my behavior. I can still curse like a sailor (no offense to ocean-going professionals intended) when I hit my thumb with a hammer, or fall down a flight of icy steps. It’s a wonderful catharsis. But I can’t remember the last time I did that with a client, or in a restaurant, or even a bar, especially when my voice is readily heard and there are strangers around who don’t appreciate my basically tender and generous soul.

A great deal of the commentary I read on YouTube is beyond our old locker room banter. Some people on Facebook seem not to care what the people in that restaurant think of them, they’re shouting it out. (Facebook has often been compared to a raucous Boston bar at closing time, but I think there is more civility in the bar, and there are people who tell loudmouths to “knock it off.”)

Profanity in a debate—especially in an ad hominem attack on the other person—is a poor substitute for intellect. It denotes a paucity of intelligence, of reasoning power, of wit. (Just as the “comics” who simply string profanities together as their “act” put me to sleep. That’s not wit. It’s nitwit.) Now that the social media platforms have created such vaster public forums, the degree to which many resort to invective rather than invention is appalling.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had to throw two people out of my Mentor Program for deciding they were simply going to use profanity and ad hominem attack to communicate and to impugn others. (I’ve only had to do that three times before in 15 years, and those three were for ethics violations.)

I realize I’m leaving myself open to the wise guys who will post commentary here in response using profanity, such is life, but surely there must be a majority getting tired of people not even bothering to think long enough to use words to try to influence, rather than curses to try to scare. It seems to me the constant danger in vast public interaction is always that of the looming menace of the lowest common denominator becoming the norm.

© Alan Weiss 2010. All rights reserved.

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The Adventures of Koufax and Buddy Beagle

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A Man of WHICH people?

President Obama was in Rhode Island yesterday for all of four hours, but it was one of the most intensely dysfunctional four hours any politician could create.

He spoke briefly at a 40-person factory (from notes!) which had rehired people after receiving stimulus money. He then arrived late for a reception primarily for Providence Mayor David Cicilline’s run for Patrick Kennedy’s House seat. This reception cost attendees $500 to merely be in the same huge room at the Convention Center.

His motorcade (do you really need a dozen motorcycles?!) then went to the affluent East Side of Providence where wealthy developer Buff Chace and his wife were hosting a highly publicized dinner party for $7,5000 a person to dine with the President. That’s right: $15,000 per couple. Streets were blocked off by department of public works dump trucks, and even nearby pumpkins were inspected for safety (I am NOT making this up—the Providence media reported every shrug and moan with mind-numbing detail).

The owners and chiefs from the famed Providence restaurant, Al Forno, were imported for the presidential palate. (Al Forno is famous for original food and hating customers—no reservations, and please eat and leave.) One of the restaurant’s founders, Johanne Kileen, noted that this was the second most exciting day in her life, after her wedding day. One supposes that the restaurant business, travel, and a long-term marriage don’t carry many thrills in her life. Perhaps she should get out more.

I know Buff Chace, and he is an admirable man. He has used his family fortune to try to develop downtown Providence, arguing articulately that retail, commercial, residential, and recreational facets must be concurrently created. He’s had mixed success, but not for lack of trying. He was the long-time board chair of Trinity Repertory Company while I served on the board, and his family is generous and community-minded. I haven’t always agreed with him, but I respect him.

And it was at this event that the President spent 20 minutes in small talk, then headed back to Air Force One to head to DC, kiss his kids goodnight and walk the dog. The guests had spent $750 per minute, $12.50 a second, for the President to make the barest plausible visit and depart, outstanding chiefs notwithstanding, arrangements of no import, loss of face for the hosts inconsequential. At least the food didn’t get cold, even if the conversation did.

In the bargain, besides tying up traffic royally because apparently it’s dangerous to have anyone use the roads anywhere while the President is being chauffeured around, he managed to alienate the supporters of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio, whom Obama pointedly refused to endorse, perhaps to repay Mr. Caprio’s independent (once Republican) rival, Lincoln Chafee, for his support last election, perhaps to thumb his nose at someone who supported Hillary Clinton (and there is no way the Clintons would have acted this way on a visit, but that’s another story).

Mr. Caprio promptly told the news media that the President could “shove it” as far as his endorsement was concerned, and that caused national news, apparently because others don’t realize that’s like saying, “no worries” here in Rhode Island. In this state, that phrase doesn’t even budge the rudeness meter.

So, in just four hours we witnessed a real slash and burn demonstration. The trouble is, it was leveled at what I thought were his own people. So, I’m wondering, just which people ARE his people? How many of them will be around to vote next week?

© Alan Weiss 2010. All rights reserved.

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Episode 50: Lessons Learned

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Alan’s Monday Morning Memo – 10/25/10

October 25, 2010—Issue #58

This week’s focus point: Almost all organizations (public and private, large and small) have three potential interactions with customers and clients: products, services, and relationships. If you focus merely on product, you’re engaged in a price-sensitive commodity. If you focus also on service, you can differentiate and demonstrate more value. However, by including a focus on your relationships with customers you can develop loyal evangelists of your business who will always give you the benefit of the doubt in good times and bad.

Monday Morning Perspective: The dogs may bark, but the caravan moves on. — Old Arab saying

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© Alan Weiss 2010. All rights reserved

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Local Vacation

I’ve always believed in “local vacations,” where we can turn a weekend (or whenever) into a singular experience.

Yesterday, we packed an overnight bag and headed for the Castle Hill Inn in Newport (where quite a few of you have joined me for the Million Dollar Consulting® College). Instead of staying in the Turret Suite, we took a beach cottage, about 25 yards from the surf.

We attended church in town at St. Mary’s, a gorgeous Gothic structure where John and Jackie Kennedy were married. Then we headed back to the inn for a Far Niente wine tasting over canapes and a four-course dinner. It was an intimate experience for seven couples, plus the wine company and inn people. The CEO of Far Niente talked about the winery between courses. (This was a good reason to stay over, we had a LOT of wine, but the car found its way down the hill by memory.)

This morning, I awoke at 6:30, grabbed a robe, and headed for the beach. The sand was insanely cold on bare feet. The surf was warmer. There were no lights on, the vaguest outline of the full moon, and gulls on their way to work.

All of this 25 minutes from our home. We’ll have breakfast on the porch watching the ocean, then back in time for football and the Times. I’ll have a huge amount of energy for Monday. Watch out.

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In Case You Were Wondering What I Was Thinking

• Why do politicians focus on attacking each other instead of generating ideas? Probably because they have no new ideas, but just want to serve in office for the power or ego, and find it as mindless to attack an opponent as it is for a dog to chase a squirrel. The difference, of course, is that my dog is smart enough and fleet enough to catch squirrels, because he comes up with new ideas to do so.

• When a loose crocodile on an airplane brings it down, suddenly “Snakes On Planes” loses its excitement. If the producers had suggested a croc, no one would have bought it. (Don’t crocs have to die before becoming carry-on?)

• The Chilean miners have disappeared from the media, as they should. I can only wish them a normal life, which will be better than the crash and burn of brief celebrity.

• I can usually tell when a restaurant I frequent has changed chiefs. It also seems to me that Jay Leno must have changed writers, because his monologues are simply not very funny any  more. What’s wrong in the kitchen?

• If you ever wonder about the quality of middle America, think about the focus and outrage over this poor kid from Rutgers (my alma mater) who took his life by leaping off the George Washington Bridge. We do know right from wrong,  and we are moved by the tragedy of a single person in a country of 360 million.

• Donald Trump hinting that he’ll run for President is like Simon Cowell hinting he’d like to be named Chief of Protocol. Après moi le déluge.

• Baseball in November is like ice cubes in wine. People do it, but that doesn’t mean it was meant to be, nor do you ask them for their recommendations.

• After watching all those people who keep their electronic devices surreptitiously on during takeoff and landing, I’m moved to believe they have zero impact on the plane’s operation, or that I’m constantly traveling with people cheating death.

• The Rejection Collection by Matthew Diffee is a collection of New Yorker cartoons that were rejected. The author calls it “crème de la crap.” It is hysterical. (My friend Bill Corbett sent me this as a gift.)

• In an era of space-age technology, why can’t someone make a screen protector for the iPad that goes on easily, without sprays, instructional videos, and air bubbles? Are you telling me they can create an iPad but not something to cover the screen? Please.

• Talk about high-stakes poker. The governor of New Jersey is waging his future on confronting the teacher’s union. Brings new meaning to “all in….”

• I keep watching “The Event” waiting for an event.

© Alan Weiss 2010. All rights reserved.

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The Adventures of Koufax and Buddy Beagle

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Alan’s Monday Morning Memo – 10/18/10

October 18, 2010—Issue #57

This week’s focus point: The Chilean miners persevered through an ordeal because they were organized, mutually-supportive, rallied around a respected leader, and kept themselves physically and emotionally strong. That’s good advice for any challenge. However, suddenly they are media stars negotiating rights and preparing to be heroes. That will probably turn out to be more harmful in the long run than the mine collapse. The heroes were the engineers and medical people on the surface who acted with calmness, speed, and precision.

Monday Morning Perspective: Ninety-five percent of all the species that have ever existed are now extinct, so don’t look so darn smug. — Christopher Moor in his book, “Fluke.”

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© Alan Weiss 2010. All rights reserved

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Mark My Words

Apropos of yesterday’s posting on the Chilean miners, here is a story from today’s New York Times:

“Rescued Miners’ Secrecy Pact Erodes in Spotlight:

The miners rescued in Chile have asked for as little as $40 and upward of $25,000 for an interview” (by Alexei Barrioneuvo and Simon Romero).

Stay with me here for advance insights on the world around us through Contrarian Consulting!

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