Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 202, June 2016)

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  • If you're uncomfortable with strangers, just ask a question or two and allow them to talk. About 99.9% of people on airplanes talk about themselves at length, given the opportunity.
  • It's not how long you sleep, it's how soundly you sleep.
  • Don't confuse work with results. A great deal of work we self-impose doesn't lead to any result.
  • If you can't learn anything at all during a class, an excursion, or an experience, whose fault is that?
  • I love animals, but I'm not happy with dogs in high-end restaurants. The act seems to be more of an affectation of the owner that a treat for the dog.
  • If someone isn't returning messages, after a third voice mail doesn't work, send a hard copy letter: "Sorry I couldn't reach you, I'm here if you need me." Then move on, don't be desperate.
  • Beware of needy people. Every time you give them the attention they crave, you simply feed their neediness still more. It's a fire that can't be doused, a thirst that can't be quenched.
  • If you're not sure how to use the silverware or eat a certain kind of food, watch what your host does.
  • An abundant mentality means volunteering your time and expertise for others, beyond your family, and without expectation of any kind of return favor.
  • Death forgives so many flaws, but it's a pretty huge price to pay as compared to simple good behavior in the meantime.



I'm not convinced that we convince too many people to make dramatic change. For example, I think in the U.S., most self-declared Democrats will vote Democratic, and most self-declared Republicans will vote Republican, leaving only a small slice of the population which can actually be influenced one way or the others. (This coming election might change that—Reagan changed it, and so did Clinton to varying degrees.) Short of having to support Jack the Ripper, people don't abandon their home bases.

I've found two dynamics of relevance in business. The first is that the same principle largely applies: Meeting are horrible places to attempt to change hearts and minds. Once people publicly "declare" their position, their ego acts as a fortress, protecting their position from assault. (This is why most jury foreman will ask for early verdicts anonymously, on slips of paper. This is called "secret polling.")

The second is that when you are able to convince people who were holding an opposing position they become more impassioned disciples than those who were always backing you! Hence, the effort can be worth the extra investment.

How is this best done? Not by suggesting they become parts of a "winning team" or "follow your colleagues." That kind of normative pressure is temporary and fickle. Changing someone's mind involves appealing to their self-interests, not solely yours. Convincing R&D that the sales team should have its way is far less effective than both group agreeing on mutually-beneficial plans. Yet we've become a partisan lot: My way or the highway.

I'm approached by people all the time who want me to do them a favor. Most just want me to put money in their pocket. There is no quid pro quo.

The next time you're in a school board, finance committee, sport league, or social meeting and you want to convince the "opposition" to change their minds, think about what's in their self-interest. It can be done at any level. Doris Kearn Goodwin's Team of Rivals demonstrates how Lincoln effectively ran the country during its worst moments by gaining support of opposing groups and views. That could still be done today.

Of course, we need people willing to understand and accommodate other views and not demand that they, alone, know the royal road.


The human condition: Changing Times

I'm sitting in our stateroom on the Danube not far from Nuremberg, where we've spent two days. The city is over a thousand years old, and the walls and towers of the "old city" are still evident. The city was over 90 percent destroyed in early 1945 near the war's conclusion. It has been rebuilt with faithful adherence to the outside and sometimes shocking modernization on the inside. (St. Elizabeth's church looks medieval on the outside but stunningly modern inside.)

Nuremberg was the birthplace of National Socialism, racial purity, and Hitler's rise, which is one reason why it was decided two hold the war crimes trials in Nuremberg at the conclusion of World War II. The courthouse and chancellery are repaired and still stand.

And here we are amidst one our closest allies today, which is a vastly diverse country. (Typical: Our waitress in a small café was Macedonian.) That continues as large amounts of refugees are settled within Germany.

I remember when I first visited Hawaii 40 years ago, I was shocked to see the number of Japanese visitors at the U.S.S. Arizona memorial.

Times change. Countries, politics, regions, allies, cultures can and do all change. The Iron Curtain falls. Trade with Cuba resumes. The European Community is established. China's middle class grows dramatically. In almost any country you can watch CNN (or Law and Order reruns).

The question is, do we allow ourselves to change? Some of us hold on to biases and inaccurate information for most of our lives. We cling to the same group of friends and never enlarge (or replace) them. We refrain from trying things we didn't like or weren't good at 20 years ago, and persist on doing things that are no longer rewarding just because we've done them for 20 years.

If a German guide today can show us the site of the Nuremberg trials and explain the rise of National Socialism, and contemporary Japanese can show their respects for American dead at Pearl Harbor, we can certainly examine our own beliefs, outlook, and attitudes.

After all, here I am on a river cruise on the Danube making friends with strangers!


We were lost in the wilds of England on confusing roads, endless rotaries, and ridiculous names (Chapped Thighs On Tweed). It was as dark as a black hole, but my colleague and navigator kept insisting the hotel was close by.

"Call the hotel and put them on speaker!" I demanded.
I told the desk clerk out troubles.
"Don't you have GPS?" he asked, unhelpfully.
"Yes, but it's led us to a hospital of some type, maybe a psychiatric clinic, very institutional."
"What are you driving?"
"A BMW 7 series, why does that matter?"
"Get out of your car."
"What? Why?"
"I can see you from my window, you're in our driveway. Welcome to the, ah, asylum…."


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