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Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 119: July 2009)

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Techniques for balance

  • What's your "rainy day list" like? Save the projects that you find formidable or never get around to for that lousy day when you can't golf, or go to the beach, or hang out in the yard.
  • This is a "buyer's market" for travel. It won't last forever. The silver lining in this economy is that you can visit luxury properties at great discounts. If not now, when?
  • When people start to whine, I used to argue with them that they can improve things. Then I simply reflected on how much better off I am than they. Now, I simply leave. When you listen to whiners you enable them, and that does neither you nor them any favors.
  • If you want to join the board or otherwise help a non-profit, check to see if there are term limits for board members and whether meetings are run with an agenda and according to at least a rough version of Robert's Rules of Order. If you have "entrenched board members" who never leave and the meetings are simply a free-for-all, save your time and money for where they will be better appreciated.
  • Are you getting an annual physical, an annual eye exam, and twice-a-year dental checkups? (An annual dermatological exam is also a good idea if you are an outdoor person.)
  • Check the American Automobile Association (AAA) in your area. They can often provide registration, license, and similar documents and replacements, avoiding the bureaucracy of the division of motor vehicles. And they provide insurance, travel deals, and so forth.
  • You should never stumble over a word, either reading it or trying to use it. Keep at your computer and bedside some hard copy or electronic version of a dictionary and thesaurus. Would you feel comfortable driving if part of your windshield were obscured?
  • This is probably just me, but Linkedin reminds me of a garage sale, Facebook of a cocktail party, and Twitter of a flea market. Keep a log of how much time you spend on social platforms. Then ask yourself if you could probably learn to play the oboe in half as much time�.
  • Note that Netflix turned things on end by NOT charging for "lateness" and besieging people to return items, the opposite of the traditional video stores and public libraries. Sometimes you have to rethink "conventional wisdom," which is often neither conventional nor wise.
  • If one more person says, in response to Buddy Beagle's idiosyncrasies, "Oh, well, he's a beagle�." I'm going to demand that there be a boot camp and entrance exam before you're allowed to live with a Beagle. There wasn't one government warning label on him!

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As we look to our futures, there are only two kinds of actions which can help to ensure success. One is preventive, and the other contingent. However, they are not as easy as one may think.

When we consider, say, the threat of fire, we tend to make certain that we have insurance; fire extinguishers; an exit plan; and even fireproof doors leading to garages or furnace rooms. But these are all contingent actions. That is, they are triggered only after a fire begins.

The preventive actions would include safe storage of combustible materials; ensuring that wiring is compatible with proper codes; clearing brush away from the house; and performing an annual inspection.

Yet we pay more attention to contingent actions than preventive actions. We honor our firefighters, as we should, when they race into harm's way to try to save lives and property. But we don't salute the fire marshal, whose actions are actually more effective. (On the industrial side, the lesson has been learned, which is why you see required evidence of elevator inspections, equipment checks, seaworthiness, and so on.)

In our own lives, it's helpful to consider preventive actions. Looking for a new job is much harder and more stressful than preventing the loss of the job you now hold. (Yes, I'm aware of politics, RIFs, downsizing and all the rest, but my consulting experience has shown me that companies rarely let go of top talent, no matter what.) It's cheaper to prevent the roof from deteriorating than to replace it. Our car warranties usually require that we pay for preventive maintenance. All diets are really contingent actions, and it's very hard to lose weight and keep it off. Regular exercise trumps bypass surgery.

Ironically, people who are highly reactive and opportunistic fall into the trap of being mired in contingent action. They become so good at reacting to developments that they neglect trying to prevent the more odious ones. But most issues in life are usually best dealt with from a preventive mentality than a contingent one. (Years ago, the dental profession stopped focusing on "fixing" bad teeth, since fluoridation and better education were preventing traditional problems, and joined the effort to prevent problems with orthodontia and similar interventions. Now, in an advance on that, a large part of the profession is taking up cosmetic dentistry.)

Take a look at your plans for vacation, education, occupation, avocation, and situation. Ask yourself if you've sufficiently considered preventing problems, so that you can sail through without capsizing. Or, are you solely focused on the lifejackets and lifeboats?

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"Charity" is an act of voluntary giving. It may involve money, time, expertise, access, property, or any number of things. People generally agree that acting in a charitable manner is salutary behavior, though the degree and amount are clearly subjective. One of my favorite comments on the subject is by the writer Joseph Epstein: "�the true measure of generosity is not how much one gives but how much, after giving, one has left over."

I've seen people become suddenly charitable after good fortune. They win at the craps tables or inherit a sum, and are moved to share generously with others. I've seen people become suddenly charitable after bad fortune. Times are tough, but they realize that others have it still tougher, and they tend to share their meager means with those less fortunate.

I've seen people who are charitable for self-serving reasons. While it makes sense that giving of yourself or your resources should be an uplifting experience, I don't have much admiration for those who give solely because their name will be emblazoned on buildings or events. (I've suggested that we rename the State of Rhode Island after one such person here, with the expectation that he would then pay off the debt and end property taxes.)

The act of giving is of itself admirable, despite the amount or type. Giving of one's time may be the most estimable form of charity, because while you can always make another dollar you can't ever manufacture another minute. When we were in high school-and a public school at that-we were encouraged to donate our time, and it was impressive to see scholars, athletes, cheerleaders, "geeks," the social and the anti-social, all interacting with community groups that needed help.

I've found that it's too easy to overlook being charitable. Oh, there are those reminders, such as the basket that passes along the pews at church every week. You can't miss that. But you can miss church. In a busy world, I think it's important to plan to be charitable, because with the best of intentions, you can forget, or become so inured to the constant phone calls of professional fund raisers that your natural empathy turns into manufactured antipathy.

What's your plan to help others, or animals, or causes, or initiatives in these tough times for many? How will you give of yourself and your resources? It might not hurt to mark it on your calendar or record it in that electronic gizmo.

And afterwards, I guarantee you'll feel a lot better.

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My wife and I were attending a fund raising event in the quad at Brown University featuring a very well known singer early in his career. We didn't have particularly good seats. As we were waiting for the evening to begin, we noticed a man in a restricted area quite obviously staring at me. My wife had dressed me well, as usual, and we both realized he was giving me an appreciative look and smile. Apparently, he didn't notice I was with someone, or didn't care.

As the lights dimmed, a 1950s classic Bentley drove in with the star, who emerged as the car stopped at the outdoor stage, and into the spotlight bounded the man who had been staring at me.

"If you had smiled back," whispered my wife, "we might have gotten better seats."

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Speaking with Alan

At Alan's home
September 1-3, 2009

We have demand for another, and there are four seats remaining of the maximum six people Alan admits. Spend time around the pool putting together, practicing, and marketing a speech. Fee includes video, all meals, and lodging. Great times, meals, wine, and great learning.

Million Dollar Consulting® College

Newport, RI,
September 14 - 18, 2009

The finest developmental experience for professional service providers, featuring business acquisition, fee setting, branding, market gravity, the language of the sale, proposals, and much more. Fast becoming THE requirement for great consulting success, located at a spectacular property in Newport, RI. Limited participation.


Newport, RI
October 21-22, 2009

Join a small group to create a workshop featuring your expertise and value and a marketing plan to launch it successfully in this economy. You can use the program as a template for other workshops. One successful workshop will repay you many times over in this powerful ROI. Alan's workshops usually average six figures in profit. This is the second and last session.

Self-Esteem Workshop

Providence, RI area, October 26-27, 2009

Brought back by popular demand after being held in Providence and Dublin. This workshop is for people who want to understand the elements of self-esteem, how to build and maintain the proper levels of esteem, and in an optional second half-day, explore personal issues for improvement. Do you have the self-esteem to attend the self-esteem workshop?!

More Details

Shameless Promotion

East Greenwich, RI
Scheduled on demand

One-to-four people participate in a rigorous two days of promotional "mayhem," in which we create assertive and powerful approaches to mold thought leaders, "go to" people, interviewing targets, and objects of interest. The second course is now being scheduled, we ensure compatibility by vetting applicants. Nothing else like this if you see to "rise above the noise."

Best Practices in Consulting

Providence, RI,
November 18 - 19, 2009

For the second time, Alan Weiss is presenting a comprehensive workshop on the techniques, methodology, approaches, and secrets that have made him "one of the most highly respected independent consultants in the country" (the New York Post). This hasn't been delivered since 2005-06 during the initial tour in Providence, Sydney, and London. Over 200 people attended those three events.

If you can't do it yourself-and well-you have no right trying to tell someone else how to do it. — AW

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