Category Archives: In Case You Were Wondering What I Was Thinking

Why I Love London

• The cabs are clean, can hold 5-6 people comfortably, and the drivers know where everything is. You’re lucky if you get a cab driver in New York who knows where the Empire State Building is, and the cab will stink while he yaks in a foreign language on a cell phone.

• No one honks car horns. The city is bustling, streets are crowded, but the noise level is very low.

• Harrods.

• Tipping is not an issue. It’s a pleasant surprise when given and not a disappointment when not given.

• There is a plethora of great museums, both for history and art.

• Vehicles do not block intersections, ever.

• All good restaurants have doormen and parking valets.

• I can get by until about 3 pm before anyone in the US is looking for me.

• Everyone ends sentences with polite, rhetorical questions: “Scottish independence is quite a concern, isn’t it?” (It’s actually not, from what I can see.)

• There is truly a highly diverse, global population here and no one goes around feeling they have to point this out.

• They have quite original ideas about food. Who else pickles sardines, or serves mushy peas? Fish and chips, which I thought was always cod, can be anything from mackerel to eel.

• If you’re considering a new exotic car, you’ll find every one in every color on the streets in Mayfair.

• Not once has anyone told me to “have a nice day.”

• There is a wry, caustic humor here and precious little political correctness.

• I can fly here during the day from Boston and not have to use a night and suffer a bedraggled next day. (Take British Air and not Virgin.)

• The pound is weak against the dollar at the moment.

• It reminds me how really good American television is.

 

© Alan Weiss 2014

 

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I Spy

Now there’s a kerfluffle about our spying on our good friend and ally, Germany. I would imagine we “spy” on a lot of people, just as a lot of people spy on us, including our allies. All countries operate in their own self-interest, and gathering intelligence seems like a necessity. (For example, are the Germans providing the means for their companies to make money by breaking the embargo against Iran? I have no idea, but our government probably feels it needs to know.)

My consultant’s question is this: If we spy so much, how come we know so little?

We seem to be pretty constantly surprised by what happens in Libya, Iraq, Russia, France, Italy, Israel, and China, just to name a few friends and foes. We’re either not spying at all or we’re really pretty lousy at it.

When I was working with Mercedes years ago, they were fond of pointing out the Lexus would reverse-engineer their cars to copy aspects of the engineering, but they would settle for the cosmetic and miss the true purpose of the design (cushioning the gas tank against impact or taking water away from sight lines).

If we’re spying on Germany, we’re still not able to build a car in the US as good as a Mercedes, nor beat their soccer team. So what’s the point?

© Alan Weiss 2014

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California Dreaming

Remember the Momas and the Papas? California Dreamin’ was one of their best efforts.

I”ve been here for the week, in Beverly Hills, probably in one of the best suites in one of the best hotels—The Peninsula. We’ve wined and dined lavishly, and here are my current reflections on the California Dream:

• The place is so over-regulated it makes Obama look like a hands-off guy. There are warnings and rules and laws about everything. This morning, a formal wall plaque warned of lead paint that may have been used in the painting of certain china in the restaurant.

• The freeways can clog at any time of the day without warning. There are a thousand merges called for in these spiderwebs of roads, and drivers here seem to have a personal pride on not allowing anyone to ever change lanes in front of them and to forsake any form of directional signal.

• There are more Teslas here than I’ve ever seen in all my other travels. They’re okay, a status symbol of sorts (I saw quite a few Friskers here two years ago, but that company went bankrupt), but you can’t convince me they’ll become anything more than a third car for people with that kind of play money.

• No matter what exotic car you talk about, you will see not one, but several, driving by you  later that day.

• In the top restaurants, there is an affectation that makes me giddy. Three guys last night in a top steakhouse, slouched over their seats, looking for all the world like stereotypes of sunglasses-on-your-head, pseudo-swingers who keep demanding favors. In another top place, we identified what must be the blowhard table, because every time we’re there that table contains the guys with open neckties, cell phones constantly in use, too-loud conversations about contracts, and frequent trips outside the restaurant.

• When women tell me they have to wash their hair more frequently here because of the dirt in the air, I’m moved to try to breathe more shallowly.

• Billboards or immense proportion seeking votes for televisions shows and actors prior to the upcoming Emmy awards seem somehow ridiculous. The public isn’t voting, and it looks like a “ransom” paid by the networks to appease the talent.

• There are so many good looking people here everywhere you look that it’s intimidating. That extends to the limo drivers, beauticians, restaurant servers, and guy who cleans our garden outside the suite.

Of course, the song’s lyric was “California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day….” And Huey Lewis and the News had a great number in, “It’s Hop to Be Square.”

© Alan Weiss 2014

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The Esteem Regime

“Democracy demands that all of its citizens begin the race even. Egalitarians insist that they all finish even.” — Roger Price (Class)

 

Recently, a school nearby had to reverse its decision to discontinue awards night for academic achievement, because parents—to their credit—were overwhelmingly in favor of acknowledging those whose performance was laudable. (School authorities are still thinking about whether they should hold the athletic achievements awards night.) The original decision was based on the belief that those who did not receive awards would not feel good about themselves (rather than want to do still better in the future, I might point out). This is an odious philosophy.

 

Many years ago, the Oakland, California school system contemplated formalizing “Ebonics,” which legitimized vernacular and incorrect English (“axe” for “ask”) on the basis that so many inner city kids used it. Only a public uproar moved them back to the position of trying to teach the English that might actually result in acceptance to college or qualifying for a job. As Bill Cosby pointed out, no one is getting hired as an air traffic controller who begins the interview with, “Whassup?”

 

This isn’t a gender or race or ethnicity issue today, because the current movement toward a crazed egalitarianism is gaining momentum all over. Kids are awarded simply for showing up or trying (or trying to show up). In an attempt to build everyone’s self-esteem, we’re actually undermining it, because in the competitive world of capitalism the people who are actually rewarded are those who do the best. You might get a watch and modest pension for showing up for 30 years, but you don’t get a very nice life style if you’ve performed in a mediocre fashion. An “A” in attendance does not equate in importance with selling, creating, or leading better than others.

 

When I taught MBA and PhD candidates in 600-level courses at the University of Rhode Island, an assistant dean told me quietly in the hall, “We give everyone an “A” or “B” here, unless there is some very strong reason not to.” I promptly flunked a kid the first semester who had claimed ADD as an excuse to do no work, but didn’t have a shred of  medical evidence and was clearly just a slacker. A full-time faculty member told me, “You’re the only one with the guts to do that because you’re not a permanent professor here.”

 

I believe in a fair start and a level playing field, but where does is say that we should all be guaranteed an equal finish? Do we want an airline pilot who is barely competent, or a doctor who couldn’t pass the boards, or a bus driver who has emotional problems? Do we want help from people who achieved their status by merely being “present”? Trying is nice, but succeeding is better. (“Coach, I should be the starter, I struck out but I was trying to hit a home run!”)

 

Why are we so intent relatively recently on not rewarding the best, but rewarding everyone and actually subsuming the best?

 

One might ascribe it to a radical, liberal philosophy of not only redistributing income but also redistributing talent (or the recognition thereof, despite the actual amount). Or one could make the case that people insecure about themselves are pushing this agenda to atone for the credit they never received because others were better, or faster, or stronger, or smarter.

 

But it just might be that people are hungry for what others have, and are seeking to shortcut The American Dream instead of work to attain it. I remember when airlines invited only their best customers to use their air clubs (early 70s and prior). But then someone filed suit, and now everyone who pays the tab must be admitted. I recall when the best athletes started the game and, in tough competition, played the entire time. But now, some contests have rules that everyone must play. (Legendary basketball coach Adolph Rupp at Kentucky once said, “If playing the game is what’s important and not winning, why does anyone bother to keep score?”) Of course, that doesn’t apply in professional sports, where people are paid to win, not merely participate.

 

The American Dream’s access road was once one that required hard work, discipline, resilience, and the realization that one might fall short of one’s goal, but the attempt alone would still be an improvement. Today it seems as if no one wants to wait on line, everyone wants immediate entry into the ride at Disneyland. I’ve seen people board a plane early when the agents call “those who need some extra time boarding,” with a limp and a groan, only to watch them race out the jetway when we disembark, miraculously cured. People sprint into stores from reserved spaces, having affixed a handicap sticker to their windshields. Everyone wants to cut the line, to cheat the system.

 

The problem is that we’ve substituted rules for judgment and crazed egalitarianism for freedom. Just recently a boy was sent home from school for bringing in a small toy soldier carrying a rifle. That’s not zero tolerance, that’s zero intelligence. Do we really believe kids will be better able to cope in the world faced with that kind of witless, insensitive reaction? Do we want to create a nation of unthinking rules on the one hand, and guarantees of equality despite talent and achievement on the other?

 

Here’s William Graham Sumner on the topic (The Challenge of Facts and Other Essays):

 

“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.”

 

When I was graduated from high school, I was named “Most Likely to Succeed.” No one protested that only two dozen of over 200 seniors received awards, and no one had a problem with a king and queen of the prom, nor that some kids were more popular than others.

 

I’ve succeeded so well because I learned early what I had to do in a highly competitive world. (In an inner city school, we were bullied all the time! We either gave the kid a quarter to leave us alone, or we fought him. If we had tried to complain to school authorities, there would have been a line two blocks long. I learned that I had to take care of myself, and that I could.) And I had to learn to read, write, and speak English correctly just to pass the course, let alone excel. I don’t recall any of us being cut any slack in high school or college. You did the work and were given a grade (not pass/fail) and if you didn’t, you received no credit.

 

Self-esteem is a vital trait for success, perhaps the absolute key. But falsely created esteem will always eventually collapse, because the world isn’t run by people assuring an equal finish, it’s run by people who reward excellence and results at the finish. We need to stop pretending that poor performance is still a fine job and that showing up is the equivalent of doing well.

 

Take it from the guy who received that very prescient award, which probably couldn’t be bestowed today without hurting everyone else’s feelings. At the time, I never thought about whose feelings might have been hurt, I was simply happy that I merited the recognition. And I’ve tried to live up to it.

 

© Alan Weiss 2014

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People Who Won’t Go Away

I saw a clip of the latest person who never seems to go away, Jill Abramson, fired by the New York Times, making a commencement address at Wake Forest. She was utterly without gravitas, spoke in a squeaky voice reading her notes verbatim, and came across as highly unimpressive.

Years ago at my club, the woman who was then president of the Times spoke, and she was dreadful—a canned speech from index cards with no regard for where she was or why. The club management got an earful from sophisticated people who didn’t need to waste an evening on the insipid.

Maybe the Times’s problem is the women they hire and appoint to these positions.

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Flash: London No Longer Capital of England

I’ve been coming to London since (I’m mortified to admit) the 60s. I’ve been there perhaps 20 times. It’s one of my five top cities in the world (New York, Hong Kong, Venice, San Francisco), I’ve belonged to a gambling club there for 30 years, and I know the place well.

 

And it has metamorphosed.

 

This is no longer the capital of England. It is the meeting place and juncture for the world’s great wealth. The money here is Russian, Middle Eastern, Israeli, American, Chinese, and from a dozen other sources. You compete here not with the English, but with the wealthiest people in the world. Some are permanent, some are transient, but their presence is overwhelming. It has only the faintest resemblance to the rest of the realm.

 

There are apartments in Mayfair, Knightsbridge, and a few other places that sell for 150 million pounds. That is just shy of $300 million, and there are people who own several. That market is very active, it’s hard to find property, and prices keep increasing.

 

At my favorite restaurant in my home town, you might see my Bentley and two others at the curb on a weekend. Walking out of Scott’s on Mount Street in Mayfair on Thursday, there were nine within three blocks. Ferraris are as common as Porsches are in the states.

 

In my hotel, the Café Royal in the middle of Piccadilly, cereal or some eggs at breakfast costs about $45. It’s tough to get out of a cab and pay a fare of less than about $25. I was in Beijing late last year, then Hong Kong, and I’ve been to 60 countries. London’s prices are up at the top.

 

London has become a city/state, like modern Singapore, or long-ago Genoa and Venice. I can see it, like Singapore separating from Malaysia some time ago, departing from England and the United Kingdom. It has become a world city, not an English one, and a power unto itself. A client took me to the most exclusive club in London, 5 Hertford, where American movie stars, Russian oligarchs, Spanish royalty, and Arabian princes mingle. He was a charter member. “You may be talking to the only Englishman in the place,” he observed, not really in jest.

 

Here’s to London, a global city. I’ll be back in September. When it proclaims itself a separate entity, I wonder if the Queen will have to make a choice between being Queen of London or Queen of England, with the latter requiring a palace in Liverpool or Manchester, but no longer in London.

 

I imagine if that came to pass, Buckingham Palace would be snapped up for a cool trillion in no time at all.

 

© Alan Weiss 2014

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The Good Old Days

One is immediately ostracized for suggesting that the “old days” were better in some way. You are portrayed as an “old timer” who just doesn’t understand the modern sophistication of, say, Lady GaGa or Jon Stuart or raves.

 

Yeah, well.

 

I love the modern, with all the latest technology, speed, instant gratification, and all that jazz. But some olio that includes extinct past practices might improve all our lots. Specifically:

 

• People used to dress up on airplanes. Men and women wore suits. Conditions were (believe it or not) not as comfortable as they are today. I’d rather wear a jacket than sit next to a guy with a tee-shirt and flip-flops, or a woman with her hair all over the seat with dirty bra straps prominently displayed. (And that’s first class.)

 

• I like music with intelligible lyrics, which is why the Great American Song Book and jazz and blues were so popular with all ages. Someone screaming at me just feels as though I dented their car. The Beatles perpetuated the past with carefully chosen words.

 

• Humor was achieved without gross profanity. I’ve heard comics on some of the cable channels who throw in an obscenity (usually the same one) every 30 seconds, and the audience roars. That’s not humor, that’s just classless. (And it’s stupefying on Facebook where some people seem bereft of adjectives and just rely on mindless profanity.)

 

• Standing ovations were once rare, granted to magnificent performances. Now they are constant, granted to the audience for themselves as if to say, “It was worth the $400 dollars, even if I didn’t understand it and wasn’t crazy about the story or acting.”

 

• There were no such things as “all you can eat buffets” which I find totally disgusting along with the people scarfing down food as though they’ve never eaten, although their waistlines would belie that.

 

• People agreed on some issues and disagreed on others. It wasn’t “single issue politics” in which one disagreement created polarization. Moreover, people admired success, they didn’t fall victim to sophistry about “soaking the rich” as though that would take care of everything. People sought success, not revenge.

 

• It was rare to have a single-parent family unit, and it was heinous to conceive several children by different women and not support any of them.

 

• No one expected the rest of society to change to meet their every need, whether it was a fragrance allergy, a food restriction, or learning problem. People dealt with their own issues and didn’t automatically become victims of them. People first looked to families to help. (Some guy on Facebook told me that my new retreat center, named after one of my dogs, should be “dog free” to accommodate his dog hair allergy! Yet he’s not a client and I’ve never heard from him before. He’s just his own agenda-peddler telling me I should change my life.)

 

• In baseball, shortstops hitting .230 didn’t receive $20 million contracts; in basketball, even the stars were called for walking and palming; in football, players made great plays without launching a celebration as if they’d just invented penicillin; and in all sports, there were no performance-enhancing drugs. (In fact, stars such as Mickey Mantle and Max McGee routinely drank alcohol to excess and played with diminished skills.)

 

• There were dinner tables where kids were able (viz.: were forced to) talk to their parents, learn values, explore difficulties, hear of the world around them, and mature socially. When I do see families dining together today in restaurants, every member has a face buried in an electronic device. That’s not “bon appetite,” that’s bonehead.

 

• There were no “reality stars” in scripted shows pretending to be extemporaneous, and no one in the public view named Kardashian.

 

© Alan Weiss 2014

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Confessions

In the Catholic Church one confesses sins (Reconciliation) prior to Easter. The Jews have a day of atonement, Yom Kippur. I thought it was time for me to make some secular confessions:

 

• I don’t get Pharrell.

 

• The NCAA playoffs may be the purest major athletic event remaining in the US.

 

• Why is it that the country/western genre has more talented, beautiful female singers than any other?

 

• I drove an electric car and I would have rather been in the back seat reading a book.

 

• Please don’t talk to me about cultural differences, you don’t kill zoo animals to cull them, and you don’t invite the public to watch.

 

• Why is it okay—and generates awards—to mock Mormons on Broadway but it’s risky to even criticize Muslims in an editorial?

 

• Say what you will, but the voting in Afghanistan the other day, with people in line for hours in adverse weather despite terrorist threats, shows more interest and hope than the lousy voter turnouts here.

 

• After all this time, I find Facebook represents vast loneliness to me, with neediness in second place.

 

• I would not trust most of the people I’ve been exposed to as a member of Mensa to walk Buddy Beagle.

 

• Why people watch The View astounds me.

 

• I look back nearly six years and see nothing at all exceptional about the accomplishments of the President and his administration.

 

• Unionizing college athletics may be legal but that doesn’t mean it’s not dumb.

 

• Some people seem to exist just through inertia and momentum. Matt Lauer comes to mind.

 

• The people I would deport are those who begin every day in an ugly mood.

 

© Alan Weiss 2014

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Phrases That Are Fingernails on Blackboards

Phrases that have become fingernails on blackboards*

 

(* Blackboard: A primitive writing surface requiring chalk and erasers with no digital component or wireless interface. It’s progeny was the Etch-a-Sketch.)

 

• Resonate. I don’t really care if something resonates with you. Do you like it or not?

 

• In this space. You’re a consultant in the non-manufacturing attrition space? How about if you make space for someone who speaks the language correctly?

 

• Reaching out. What do you mean you’re reaching out to them? Are you calling them or not? The zombies in “The Walking Dead” reach out.

 

• Like. It no longer means to find something or someone gratifying, but rather it’s an award of reciprocal banality, as in “please like my post.” You don’t have to read it to like it, you just have to click on a link.

 

• Final destination. Note to flight attendants: a destination IS final.

 

• A training. “I’m out on Tuesday doing a training.” “Really, well, I’ll be doing a washing, then a walking, then a shopping, and finally a drinking.”

 

• Reboot, as in “reboot your thinking.” Can I tell you where to put that boot?

 

• 360, as in “360-degree assessment.” A true 360-degree turn puts you right back on the track you were on before the coach showed up and you paid her all that money.

 

• “Cool.” People are still saying “cool.” That’s very uncool.

 

• We’ve noticed that your SEO ranking is low and you are not getting the traffic that your site deserves. Right, and you’re so successful you have to resort to spamming to try to pick up loose change.

 

© Alan Weiss 2014

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Obesity Down for Children, It Won’t Please Everyone

Today’s New York Times:

 

Obesity Rate for Young Children Plummets 43% in a Decade

By SABRINA TAVERNISE

The data, reported in a major federal health survey, offered the first clear evidence that America’s children have turned a corner in the obesity epidemic, and came as a surprise to researchers.

 

Do you know why it surprised researchers? Because we have entire industries dedicated to reporting and trying to prove calamity, chaos, and conspiracy. We have too many people who only make news undermining society and creating fear. The researchers were surprised, probably as much as the Times staff, because they had hoped for worse news.

© Alan Weiss 2014

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