Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 187, March 2015 )
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Once upon a time, if you picked up a non-fiction book, you could rely on it being true, at least under the conditions that prevailed when it was written. Today, commercial publishers are far more concerned with what will sell rather than what is actually valid.
We also have a proliferation of self-published works which are simply the views of the author who is paying for the print run, which can produce some extraordinary claims and dubious "facts." Thus, we have miracle diets, "cures" for tinnitus, how to live on nine cents a day, why we legally don't have to pay taxes, and so forth.
Add to this the vast electronic publishing universe, which is actually one, vast vanity press. Every day I read stuff on Facebook which is empirically untrue, unfair comparisons, misquotes, and/or utter ignorance of history and science. Everyone may be entitled their own opinion, but I doubt they're entitled to their own set of "facts." (Wikipedia, which has become the "Bible" of free publishing, hardly competes with the old Encyclopaedia Britannica for scrupulous accuracy.)
The burden on us is heavier than ever to be discerning, to consider the source, to use our judgment. I'm co-authoring a book at the moment with Kim Wilkerson in which one of our contentions is that wisdom is the culmination of experience, education, talent, knowledge, and judgment. We have a lot of smart people, a great many talented people, and even highly knowledgeable people, but when we think of "wise" we tend to default by millennia to Aristotle or Plato or Socrates.
It's one thing to enter Best Buy with our specifications for a modern, highly sophisticated and complex "entertainment system" (viz.: television), but it's another to walk into a meeting without such specs to discuss a new product, refinancing, vacations, or schools. I can compare performance statistics on cars, but what do I use to evaluate advisors, or investments, or candidates for election�beyond the "noise"?
I don't want to read anyone's book who's merely famous for writing the book. I want to see his or her track record of success. I won't pay attention to "celebrity" endorsements of anything unless that person has demonstrated expertise in the area (ergo, "shut up and sing"). I ignore the private agendas on Facebook and the self-serving articles on Linkedin because you can't dissuade a zealot with mere facts.
The publishing jungle has become inexpensive, ubiquitous, and without barriers to entry. Be careful out there.
The human condition: Threats
There's a (probably apocryphal) story of two German hotels in the same town. One had a sign on the reception desk which read, "Although breakfast is included in your room rate, you will not receive a reduction or credit if you do not eat breakfast." The other hotel simply had a note in the package with the key, "We are pleased to offer you a complimentary breakfast."
The point is the same, but the methods vary starkly. Have you ever seen a store with hand-made signs in the window like this: "No shoes, no shirt, no service. No smoking. No food or beverages. No bills larger than $20. No checks. No credit cards for charges under $10." And so on and so forth. The owner doesn't trust anyone, feels that you have to conform to common sense by fiat rather than rely on judgment.
There is a restaurant in Providence called Al Forno. It supposedly originated thin-crust pizza, and often makes the list of the top restaurants in the US (their PR person is better than their chef). Frankly, the food is good, but I wouldn't put it in the top 10 restaurants in Providence, which is a great eating town. But the real problem is that Al Forno is so arrogant.
There are no reservations, so you're expected to wait for hours during peak periods, except for the special friends of the owners who sail by everyone else. We arrived on one occasion and were walking up to the second floor reception area when we came upon a perfectly priggish guy stationed on the staircase.
"Are you here for dinner?" he asked, eyebrows arched.
"Yes." (No, I'm here to exercise on your stairs.)
"Well, we can't possible seat you for two-and-a-half hours," with focused eye contact.
I told him he was mistaken, because we weren't staying, and we left.
If you're going to be in business of any kind, you can't fear your customers and you can't relegate them to the status of annoying interlopers. I've never assumed a new prospect is damaged, so why would a business assume I'm damaged or undesirable?
Competition is such today that you can find almost anything you need with the addition of a great attitude and comforting behavior, and that extends from restaurants to heart surgeons, and from auto dealerships to estate planning. I'm weary of banks nickel and diming us on every transaction, treating us as their own ATMs instead of trying to develop us as valued customers and investors.
Demand proper treatment. If you don't get it, leave. I don't recommend Al Forno to anyone and refuse to take clients there. I'm looking to move my sizeable portfolio to another bank because my current one does nothing proactive for me, ever.
But I always appreciate a complimentary breakfast, whether I eat it or not.
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