Monthly Archives: November 2011

Teflon for Brains

How is it that someone who knows that he or she will be scrutinized only slightly more than animalcules on a petrie dish still believes that past assignations and improprieties will never be exposed? Herman Cain. Jerry Sandusky. Bernie Fine. Bernie Madoff. Eliot Spitzer. Martha Stewart. Michael Vick.

We are all tempted by the fiction that we will be able to “get away with it.” No doubt some have. The perfect crime is a human obsession. We know that John Kennedy’s peccadillos were known and not reported by an adoring press in another age. Even today, we have no idea of the criminal and unethical behavior that has been concealed behind kryptonite barriers.

But the media feed on imperfection (despite their own—which is why Murdoch’s collapsing, hacking empire is so enormously satisfying) and will turn spitting on the sidewalk into an environmental catastrophe. What type of hubris defies this?

It’s the hubris of the inordinately successful. Business people, athletes, entertainers, those stretching their Warholian 15 minutes, begin to feel Teflon-coated, somehow immunized against prying eyes and inquiring minds.

Even when larger institutions provide protection—a Penn State or a public office—the odds are that the transgressor will be found out, especially as higher rank and more altitude are sought. We have a tendency to eat our young and tarnish our heroes. (A Medal of Honor winner was recently branded a drunk with personality disorders because he opposed his British-owned new employer’s move to sell sniper scopes to Pakistan.)

The fall can be precipitous, but also rife with rebound. Michael Vick is once again a highly paid, praised quarterback. Eliot Spitzer got a talk show (for which he had no talent). Barney Frank announced his voluntary retirement after 20 years in the House and after several sordid scandals. Pee Wee Herman is entertaining again.

I’m all for forgiveness. Most religions certainly advocate it. But I’m not for stupidity. Teflon prevents food from sticking, but it’s only useful when there’s heat applied. And most people can’t stand the heat and hop into the fire.

© Alan Weiss 2011. All rights reserved.

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Don’t Expose Me

Here’s a request placed on the web recently, which is all too common:

“I am looking for a speaker to present an hour-long audio conference on: ‘No Pay Raise for You this Year! How to Handle This Conversation with Your Employees.’ Our audience is made up of management and HR professionals across the country. The presentation is delivered virtually, so there’s no need to travel. The speaker will be required to submit a PowerPoint presentation that will be sent to the attendees in advance. While speakers will not be compensated for their participation, these audio conferences can provide them with valuable professional exposure, and we encourage speakers to include contact information in our promotions and in their presentation materials.”

Let me ask you two questions:

1. What successful person would want to share their intellectual property for the gain of a third party in return for dubious “exposure”?

2. What kind of “expert” do you think you’ll attract who is desperately seeking the “E-word” and wants to do this?

The audience is cheated, the quality is low, and the concept is dumb. This is what happens when people want to make money without investing in proper resources and trying to do things “on the cheap.” You get what you pay for, and when you pay nothing you get nothing. Don’t enable this kind of stupidity.

If you’re desperate for “exposure,” leave your windows open.

© Alan Weiss 2011. All rights reserved.

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Alan’s Monday Morning Memo – 11/28/11

November 28, 2011—Issue #114

This week’s focus point: I’m just back from Australia, and heading to Canada to make a speech. Earlier this year I was in Germany and Italy. We are living in a global economy (as the markets reflect every morning), with more similarities than dissimilarities. As an entrepreneur, how much effort are you investing in becoming a global presence? Whether in person, remotely, through alliances, or by attracting people to you, your value and your impact are not circumscribed by national borders. As kids we were sometimes afraid to “step over the line.” We’re not kids any more, and we’re not confined to our backyards.

Monday Morning Perspective: We all have strength enough to endure the misfortunes of others. — Le Duc de La Rochefoucauld

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© Alan Weiss 2011. All rights reserved

I remember a meeting with a boutique consulting firm that had fallen on hard times. The debate was whether or not to sell their magnificent conference table. “Where would clients sit?” asked one partner. “We have no clients,” stated the advocate of selling. You can’t cut your way to renewal or success. Top line growth is the key to bottom line achievement, for you and for your clients. Today is the time to invest in the future. Once you cut muscle, you’re powerless.
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Leaving Canada

After delivering my keynote and a special session for an elite group of Canadian speakers last night, I caught a limo from the hotel this morning after a 5:30 am fire alarm trumped my later wake-up call. The limo arrived early and the driver was very polite.

At the airport, I headed for Global Entry. There was a long wait in the regular system, with maybe 10 US immigration officers amidst booths for three times that number, and long, Disneyland lines. I bypassed everything, and then ran into Mr. Ugly American. An officer at the machine, instead of saying the machine was out of order, and he’s sorry, interrogated me as to whether I had Nexus, and why didn’t I know what that was. I said, “Can I use this machine or not?!” and he said, “Go see an officer!” I asked him if he were always that unpleasant. I find this intolerable as an American. It’s humiliating to employ this kind of attitude.

After 15 minutes in the line and halfway through, I saw that the machine was lighted again and Mr. Personality had left. I ducked under the ropes and did my thing in one minute. Then at the exit point, a woman was working slowly to collect forms but a man next to her was doing nothing. “Are you open?” I asked politely. “I’m Canadian police,” he said, “and all I can do is arrest you!”

“That’s the best deal I’ve had since I entered immigration,” I explained, “what can you do for me?” He offered cozy accommodations with three meals and a sound roof, with plenty of security. We both laughed and I was finally at the woman taking forms. He told her not to let me return, and she stopped her mechanical actions and asked him soberly, “Why?”

Security was fast, but I was asked for my boarding pass—I am not making this up—six times before I was finally on my way to the gates. Some of these people were all of 10 yards apart.

Finally, I entered the Priority Club, an Amex benefit. The hostess checked me in and I asked how far my gate was from the club. Incredibly, she replied, “I’m sorry, sir, I’m not familiar with the airport.” She was actually hired and trained and never asked to familiarize herself with the airport, while dealing with passengers! And coming to work every day, she didn’t feel the need to do so!

Never feel that there is no work for consultants and performance improvement. Most immigration officers are fine people, and anyone can have a bad day. But I sensed this guy was in the midst of a bad life. Security is vital, but paranoia is dangerous. (“The price of eternal vigilance is indifference”—Marshall McLuhan, ironically, a Canadian.)

And if you don’t know what’s outside your door, you might as well be a hermit. They don’t have to commute.

© Alan Weiss 2011. All rights reserved.

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Why Professional Associations Fail

I’m in Toronto keynoting for the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS) tonight. In two weeks I’ll be in Key Biscayne helping to facilitate an “elite” speakers workshop for the National Speakers Association (NSA). I’ve made well over 60 appearances for NSA and the Institute of Management Consultants (IMC). I’m one of only two people in history granted the highest honors of NSA (Hall of Fame) and IMC (Fellow).

I tell you all this because I’ve been very involved in these organizations and have tried to “pay back” the professions which have been so important to my success. So I was saddened to receive an email today from the New England chapter of the IMC—historically highly innovative and organized—stating it is considering disbanding.

The problem with these organizations is historic (I’ve been a member since the 1980s): They have failed to brand themselves and their primary certifications. No one—no buyer—has ever asked me about CSP (Certified Speaking Professional) or CMC (Certified Management Consultant). Never. Moreover, there are thousands of superb speakers and consultants who choose not to belong to the organizations, because they see no need or benefit. (I believe you support professional associations in your profession, and try to help others.)

Scores of chapter officials, national presidents, officers—and thousands of board members—have failed to understand the need to create a brand powerful enough to distinguish members and recipients from others—in other words, to create a gravity toward them and make marketing easier and more effective. There has been insufficient understanding, interest, investment, and action. Stringing initials after your name that are not recognized immediately by prospects creates skepticism, not acceptance. But using those that are readily known—MBA, PhD, PE—creates credibility.

Too often, these designations are simply used for elitism and “rank” within the organization, but rarely transcend those borders. Recognition is irrelevant if it doesn’t influence buyers. You can’t send your plaques and certificates to the mortgage company.

In a world where we see successful branding on a global basis, from commodities to services, small firms to large, why is it that professional associations don’t understand that their major function is to create brand recognition for their members? Nothing else is as important.

© Alan Weiss 2011. All rights reserved.

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Winning Not Whining

The New York Times published letters today in response to an article about the increasing investments in first class amenities by the airlines. One of the letters was mine, in which I commented on my recent trip to Australia and back in first class on a Qantas A380, which enabled me to “hit the ground running” for my speaking commitment when I arrived and to return home refreshed.

The other letters were about an ever-increasing movement to strike at “them” (anyone who is better off through talent and hard work). One observation was that first class seats shouldn’t be a tax deduction and another that coach seating is suffering because the money is being spent up front.

First, redistribution of wealth; then, redistribution of seats!!

I’ve met people throughout my career who discovered what would be important to them in life and strove to achieve and obtain it. I’ve met others who simply bemoaned the fact that people had things that they don’t and resorted to perpetual victimhood.

TIAABB: There is always a bigger boat. I don’t need the biggest, and couldn’t afford it, anyway. But I know how I want to live, travel, contribute, drive, and recreate. And I strive to fulfill those aspirations by innovating, marketing, and providing more quality and better experiences than others. I take prudent risk as an entrepreneur, and don’t delude myself into thinking that a corporate job with less risk would reward me similarly. I pursued my education, and read every word on every page in every book. I don’t plan to “retire,” though I take care to provide for long-term financial needs independent of government safety nets.

Most of all, I don’t begrudge anyone who has more than I. Good for them. If I want what they have, I’ll work to get it, but I won’t demand that they give me part of what they have because of some kind of crazed egalitarianism. I went to public schools through my first masters degree, paid for by government loans which I repaid, scholarships, and part-time jobs. It was a good feeling. I didn’t get to use “Daddy’s money” because there was none!

People have different levels of need. A modest life can be a life well-lived if that’s your goal. An affluent life can be a life well-lived if that’s your goal. But to resent another’s life because it contains what you wish you had but don’t is a wasted life.

Once the demands are accepted that everyone be treated exactly alike—despite talent, achievement, and work ethic—we no longer stimulate competition, innovation, and growth. (I remember when you had to be invited into airline clubs, but then a lawsuit made sure that you only had to write a check—which makes most of them too crowded and ineffective for work or relaxation. Now I have to watch bores clip their toenails and shout into cell phones.) What’s next? Does everyone have the right to first class travel, a Mercedes, private schools, and a yacht? Apparently, everyone has the right to their own reality show, since I’ve never heard of most of those people and they have no discernable talent.

Perhaps the opportunity to fly over oceans or across the country in relatively little time, in safety and comparative comfort, is a blessing in itself? Or is the lure behind those curtains up front an irresistible outrage because you’re not the one sipping champagne?

Everyone deserves an equal start and a level playing field, and where those don’t exist, protests are on target, though too often ignored or blunted (the sad state of inner city public education at primary and secondary levels being just one example that is undermining the country). But no one is guaranteed an equal finish or reward, deluded attempts to “foster” self-esteem notwithstanding.

The rewards seem to me to be a question of the pursuit of the American Dream, and that’s always been about work and talent, winning and not whining.

© Alan Weiss 2011. All rights reserved.

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More Photos

Magnificent St. Patrick's Basilica in Melbourne.

Altitude Restaurant in the Shangri-La, where I hosted a dinner in Sydney.

View from the tail camera on the A380 in first class at 38,000 feet over the Pacific.

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View from My Window

I couldn’t upload my photos in Sydney because of a wire that caused my lap top to lose power, so here’s an example of the view from my suite on a threatening day.

The Harbor Bridge and the Opera House

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The Adventures of Koufax and Buddy Beagle

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, whether you’re in the US formally celebrating the day, or elsewhere around the globe. We all have a lot to be thankful for, most of all, family.

– Alan

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