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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: June 2007

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for Balance
  2. The Human Condition: Shoulder Chips
  3. Musings
  4. ORTIYKMWOYBNT-O Department

  1. Techniques for Balance

    • Most of the major network shows and series you can now watch after-the-fact on the Internet.

    • There are only a few really vital aspects of pricing: The perceived value of your offering, the price point, the margin of profit, and the volume of sales. You can materially affect all of them unilaterally.

    • You can reserve seats at many top restaurants using web-based intermediaries such as Open Table, which also provide you with points for frequency.

    • Leave when you're on top. It's far worse to stay too long at the fair than it is to leave early. Leave others wanting more, not wanting you to leave.

    • You cannot go through life afraid that people are going to steal your intellectual property. The only worth of that property is in public discourse and interaction. Don't let the miniscule number who will steal from you thwart you from offering your value to the multitudes.

    • If you're actively seeking advice, but are ructious, choose to argue with, defend against, and try to "one-up" your advisor, then you may just be better off struggling along in blissful ignorance. No matter whom the coach, you must be "coachable."

    • Word of the week, answer at the end of the newsletter: "She was always uniformly puissant with her colleagues, and it may have harmed her career." How did she act with colleagues? (Don't Google it or you vitiate the experience.)

    • Learn the names and identify of the major trees, bushes, and flowers in your area. The next time someone says, "What a fabulous tree," you reply, "Of course, it's a red oak." Simple thing, very impressive, and isn't "tree" a bit TOO generic?

    • I don't know about you, but if it takes me more than 20 seconds to leave a message for someone who obviously is not taking calls, I grow restless; at 30 seconds, apathetic; and at 40 seconds, hostile.

    • When you know and use the name of the parking valet, mail deliverer, shoeshine operator, or receptionist, you've placed yourself on an inside track where distances are shorter and the race is easier to win.

  2. The Human Condition: Shoulder Chips

    Some people roam around with chips embedded in their shoulders, sort of like those identification capsules inserted into my dogs that can be read by a veterinarian's scanner. The human version is identified by a new category I have created: passive-obnoxious behavior syndrome (ineluctably, POBS).

    POBS (sometimes called "hidden chip" among professionals) can be identified by behavior which isn't overtly aggressive but is nonetheless designed to foster pseudo-offense and resultant confrontation. You've experienced it. A classic POBS is the person on the airplane who keeps "accidentally" kicking the back of your seat because he believes that, although the airline built reclining seats, you have no right to recline your seat into his proximity. (Mysteriously, his may be reclined. I'll have to read that memo.)

    There is the person in the movie who loudly announces to her companions, "Watch what happens next, it's very quick and you might miss it, but my cousin told me it's the funniest part of the movie!" There is the couple at the next table in the restaurant who make demand after demand on the waiter. ("I'd like all the lettuce in my salad to have dressing only on the edges, and please put 2.3 ounces of decaf in with the regular coffee�it's my doctor's suggestion.") Meanwhile, your meal gets cold, your ire rises, and you wonder what the penalty is for poisoning food.

    A lot of flight attendants have POBS. You don't get a drink on the ground in first class because they are engaged in their "primary duty, safety." That, of course, consists of chatting with each other about who is bidding on which routes and giving the captain the eye if the circumstances permit. Then there was the gate agent who told us, during a chaotic boarding process he created, that we shouldn't worry because "this plane isn't leaving until I say it leaves." Oh, so Delta has entrusted about $200 million in revenues and equipment to a guy who can only type with one finger?

    One would think that it's somewhat self-destructive to deal with the public when suffering from POBS. Especially since an obnoxious waiter, or flight attendant, or receptionist stands out in such stark contrast to the outstanding waiter, or flight attendant, or receptionist. But few of these people get whacked. They get something far worse. They get ignored.

    So, it's probably a good idea for all of us to excise that hidden chip since we carry driver's licenses for identification and don't need any augmentation. We shouldn't go looking for trouble, shouldn't resent innocent actions of others which may marginally discomfit us, and shouldn't deliberately place ourselves in a position to be aggrieved all the time.

    If you go around seeking to be offended if you don't receive special treatment, I guarantee you will be.

  3. Musings

    There are conspiracists amongst us. I'm not referring to the obvious: Those who think JFK was assassinated because of a Cuban/CIA/Cetacean plot, or those who believe that we're hiding crashed flying saucer drivers in Hanger 59 in the Mohave Desert.

    On a grand scale, I read letters to the editor and hear talk show callers cite the "real truths": That the United States is pursuing world domination and Iraq is just one aspect of that strategy, or that the government is intruding into every part of our lives, eavesdropping on our phone calls and inveigling spies into our places of work.

    I don't believe any of this because of a simple truth. The government is too stupid and inefficient to carry off any such scheme well or for more than nine minutes. (Just take a look at the inanity of the new postal rates, using "girth" and "balloon weights" and algorithms.) Every politician is engaged in trying to embarrass every other politician, and everyone in the media is out to expose the embarrassment. A President can hardly manage to throw up at a state dinner, engage in naughty behavior in the Oval Office, or refer to something that happened 40 years ago without it being on Larry King, Meet the Press, Deal Or No Deal, and The Simpsons. (Someone recently dredged up Hillary Clinton's antediluvian service on the Wal-Mart board to highlight that she never stopped the vehement anti-unionism of the times, when she was the youngest and sole female board member.)

    On a more local basis, we tend to believe that airlines are in a conspiracy to reduce service, oil companies to gouge gas prices, the municipality to raise property taxes, and our kids to avoid work. (Only one of the aforementioned is true, of course.) We debate whether the highway department is trying to extend road closings, work crews not to work, retail stores to provide less customer service, and the local awards competition of any kind--well, it was clearly rigged.

    We waste a lot of time trying to assign culpability for inconvenience, annoyance, and unpleasantness to some vast, Marxist plot or advertising scheme when, in hackneyed reality, there is no culpability other than the vicissitudes of existence.

    Yes, people in the government have lied to us; quiz shows have been rigged; retailers have cheated customers; others have ganged up on us unfairly. Those are the conditions that may exist behind curtains 1, 2, or 3. You haven't received short shrift. You've received the only shrift there is, notoriously egalitarian and arbitrary.

    There are precious few secrets. Certainly, the larger and more inefficient the organization, the worse the chances of the secret being kept. That totally eliminates the government and most bureaucracies, right down to the local soccer league and PTA. It's silly to waste time and energy blaming (let along seeking) perpetrators of conspiracies against us.

    You might as well blame losing your pocket change on a conspiracy by those who design couch cushions. But if you check under the cushions every so often, you'll find your change (and an occasional dog treat).

    Now, if someone will just tell me why those blasted chipmunks have assembled in such extraordinary numbers just to attack my garden and no one else's, I can take care of it and get back to work.


    (Last month I ran something else in this space, and my daughter asked if I had run out of embarrassing moments. If so, she told me, she'd be happy to take over this column, so I'm back to writing it myself.)

    Some time ago, I decided that yogurt would become a part of my diet to help with an intelligent eating regimen. I asked my wife to pick up the neat flavors I had seen advertised: banana, raspberry, blueberry, etc.

    My habit was to open the small individual serving containers and eat without using a dish. I found the stuff bland and boring. I couldn't even finish the container, seldom reaching the half-way point. I complained to my wife about the fraudulent advertising.

    "What are you talking about?" she said. "This is delicious."

    I told her it was like semi-soft cardboard. So, she pulled out a strawberry yogurt container and said, "Try this one." I dutifully pulled off the lid, took a spoon and began to eat. After about ten seconds, my wife yanked the container out of my hands, poured the contents into a bowl, and showed me that all the fruit was sitting on the bottom waiting to be stirred.

    She was still muttering as she walked away. The yogurt was pretty darn good once you knew the secret....