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Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 167, July 2013 )

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  • Stop analyzing, talking, and conceptualizing, and start doing. Forget "measure twice, cut once," the mantra of some insecure tailor. You can always make mid-course corrections.

  • If you are traveling in Europe, especially in train stations or places without strict security, never let your bags out of your sight, even if a polite person asks for directions. The economy seems to be forcing more people into theft than ever before.

  • With big screen TV, advanced sound, and an incredible choice of entertainment sources, I'm not sure what the point of going to the movies is any more, especially with people using their cell phones or—bizarrely—talking to the characters on the screen.

  • With a formal place setting at a meal, you work from the outside to the inside in terms of using the correct silverware. Your bread dish is on your left, water and wine glasses on your right.

  • If you want to position yourself as a peer, don't say, "I'm interviewing…" Instead say, "I'm having a conversation with…."

  • Please don't send me letters, but I wonder if we looked at ADD as a manifestation of boredom and not a disease whether the people we believe suffer from it would be far better served (and less medicated).

  • You need to begin believing that anything you say on a phone, write in text or email, or anywhere you visit on the internet may be found, shared, and used at some point, some day. Privacy, such as we used to define it, doesn't exist any more.

  • Whether diets, sales results, organization, or staying in shape, the key distinction is discipline. It's not something that most people have in abundance.

  • I love dogs, but I would never try to pet a dog I don't know until it had a good chance to sniff me and show its intentions. I pretty much feel the same way about business prospects.

  • Don't look now, but the economy is better than pre-recession and poised to really take off. I realize there are some still hurting, but there are very good times ahead.

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Why do some people become so outraged when they hear an opinion (or learn of a fact) contrary to their own views? Mature people seem to take this in stride and make up their own minds, privately. But there are some who feel compelled to shout their demurrals from the belfry.

I think this is indicative of massive insecurity. You find people on Twitter, for example, who rarely if ever post anything of worth but who assiduously follow popular people for the purpose of pointing out the exception. You may have a point that's true 99 percent of the time, but they take umbrage that you've ignored the other one percent.

Insecure people create their own fictional universe which is meant to protect them and be defended at all costs. Some of the Loch Ness Monster crowd (conspiracy theorists are among the all-time insecure, and I can just see them camped outside Area 51 trying to get a peak at alien prisoners) insist that the admission by the guy who faked the creature's photos was really a "setup" by the authorities.

Thus, I believe that the obsession with finding fault with others whose opinions are not congruent with yours is true paranoia. You can't allow something that is inconsistent with your fantasy universe to exist because it's a threat.

What if the UN isn't trying to take over the world? What if fluoride is harmless? What is taking your photograph doesn't steal your soul? What if John Kennedy was shot by a lone, crazed gunman? What if "politics" didn't get you fired from three jobs, but rather your own ineptitude or refusal to take direction? What if the people who hold different views from your own aren't evil? What if they're right?

Intelligent, confident, mature people—and I include true thought leaders, especially—change their minds. They listen to others, evaluate alternative approaches and constantly evolve. I've been fond of stating the following truth for years: I'm constantly surprised at how stupid I was two weeks ago. Other opinions may be startling, or boring, or complex, or biased, but they aren't threatening. Once you allow yourself to be threatened, all the emotional shields descend and reason is exiled.

I hope this hasn't outraged any of you.

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The human condition: Complexifying

I believe that outstanding consultants make the complex simple. That's a lot more difficult than you'd suspect, which is why only the outstanding can do it.

We tend to vest complexity with sophistication, value, and importance. A few things require complexity not for its own sake, but because of convoluted interrelationships: the Mars lander, neurosurgery, undersea oil exploration, Quentin Tarantino movies. But complexity for its own sake is ludicrous, as Rube Goldberg depicted in brilliant cartoons over decades (Google him).

Great cooking, or painting, or teaching, or playing shortstop isn't terribly complex. Those pursuits may not be easy, of course, but they are fairly simple to understand. I saw The David recently in Firenze, about which Michelangelo famously explained, "I simply chipped away anything that didn't look like David." Pretty simple.

So why do we "complexify" our days? I just read of a guy who purchased software with 20 options to make screen shots on his computer, when the keyboard allows you to do that at any time with three keys in two seconds. Some people go around the block to get next door. I had to make four decisions in Starbucks yesterday just to get a pretzel. That's not sophisticated, that's laughable.

Part of being overly complex is the seeking of unnecessary perfection in the place of pragmatic success. But part of it is an often unspoken belief that the simple is somehow unintelligent, or primitive, or embarrassing. That's an overly complex view.

Leaders, for example, are not paid to take action. They are paid to get results. Sometimes—many times—that means doing absolutely nothing. Managing by exception is far superior to hovering and micro-managing. Have you ever observed an athletic coach who over-managed, and thereby lost the game? Too many people are "losing the game" by making things too complex on the poor assumption that if it's simple, it can't be effective.

Remember Occam's Razor: The easiest answer is usually the best. I could tell you more, but let's keep this simple.




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October 10, 2013
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Venue to be announced, midtown

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I was closing an agreement in the buyer's office with two of his subordinates present, and was feeling very good about myself. I wanted to get things moving.

Buyer: We want to begin as soon as possible. Can you begin in two working weeks?

Me: I can begin sooner, in ten days.

Buyer, after a short pause: That IS two working weeks.

Me: Ah….

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Opinions, as such, are fine, since we can accept or reject them. But when they put on clothes to masquerade as fact, they become unwelcome intruders.—Alan Weiss

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