Beware of “Facts”

I’ve always urged that consultants are at their best when they help clients interrogate assumptions posing as facts. The almost “holy” question is, “How do you really know that?” Assumptions lead us often into a cul-de-sac of our own paradigms.

The other danger is what is called “research”. All of us can skew “statistics” in infinite ways. There is the Yogi Berra story I love about stats. Someone asks whether the pizza should be cut in four or eight slices. Comes the reply, “You better cut it into four, I don’t think I can eat eight.”  That in turn brings the old saw to mind, “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”

Today there has been a report released, blazing across news channels about how a new study links sugary soft drinks to an up to 87%  increase in the risk of pancreatic cancer. Wow! Well, that is, until you read the small print of the study.

Some news channels segued from this to panning diet drinks and saying they were “poison.”  They may well be, but not on the basis of this study, which only speaks of sugary soft drinks. The same study confesses that fruit juice has virtually the same amount of sugar, but doesn’t have these alleged effects.

Let me say right out, I think the fact that sugary sodas have a host of health ills is probably not controversial. So my taking on the “spin” being given to this study is NOT a defence of soft drinks. It’s an expose of our tending to state definitive conclusions based on ambiguous, if not gossamer facts.

This study, which was conducted in Singapore, tracked 60,000 individuals over about 14 years. Of these 60,000, 140 developed pancreatic cancer. Of those 140, 30 they say consumed sugary sodas on a regular, weekly basis. The balance, 110 who developed the illness, did not consume sugary sodas. So how is this being advertised as a “finding”?  How can these numbers not more persuasively argue for a chance connection at best? The researchers also refer to 4 past studies that found no link between such drinks and pancreatic cancer!

Yet the headlines proclaim, “Sugary sodas linked to pancreatic cancer.”  What ineffable twaddle!  Or, certainly so, on the basis of the facts actually cited in the study. Now excess sugar intake can precipitate the onset of diabetes, which is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer. I get that link and rationale…which though is a sidebar to this study, and wasn’t anything particularly studied here.

The takeaway? Beware of grandiose sweeping conclusions, from scant, inconclusive facts. Consultants be the voice of bracing balance. We can’t solve what we don’t understand. While everyone runs around drowning in data, be enough of a contrarian, enough of a healthy skeptic, to make sure that what glitters in that instance is really gold, not brass.

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Things That Continue To Baffle

I am repeatedly astonished by various sins of omission.

First example, many people don’t read or grasp agreements. I can’t list the number of clients we write to, detailing an offer, with clear terms and conditions, who write back enthusiastically and say, “Let’s go!” Then, having broken ground, asking them to make time, to be responsive with their accountabilities, or pay our invoices as per the terms of engagement, they cite “sudden reversals,” “meetings,” or “standard practices.”  Occasionally I understand the corporate equivalent of a natural disaster may strike. Usually it’s a tempest in a tea-cup being utilized to justify inertia. We’re good at tackling that, invoking our client’s own best interests as a way to get them up off the mat and going . Meetings recur. That can hardly be an argument against taking necessary proactive time. As for “standard practice,” that’s irrelevant when you’ve agreed to specific terms. Why we should be bound by the lack of imagination or dogmatism of other consulting firms  is beyond me. These temporary sticking points are usually all resolved amicably through engagement, but I almost feel like saying, “Okay, can we get past the post agreement depression at realities, so we can get on to delivering value for you?”

Second sample, people who don’t reply to messages or emails. These are often people who end up hiring us, getting back to us and more. So why do they disappear for periods at a time and enjoy being chased? Why don’t they say, “Not now”?  Or else, “I need something else.” Or even, “I’m struggling with this decision.” Then we could have a dialogue. Or if they know they aren’t proceeding, why keep wasting everyone’s time? Evasiveness, elusiveness, vagueness, does not make you special, or important, or a celebrity. It reveals you as a flake, someone taffy like, or so self-absorbed that simple courtesy or honesty eludes you. These are not great calling cards. Worse, they become habitual. If you only respond to those who can benefit you, and can’t abide by professional decorum and reciprocal courtesy, that’s a way to begin unraveling your character and reflexes. Good luck when the shoe is on the other foot.

Third offshoot, obliviousness to others. These are people who stand in front of restaurant doors say, phones in ears, or chattering with pals, holding up everyone else. When you say, “Excuse me,” they glower at you, because you have dared to intrude on their self-absorbed banter or loud ranting. We all may be temporarily oblivious. Most of us when we realize it, apologize pleasantly, and oblige the other person’s request. It’s called civility. What do we gain by dulling our senses at what is happening around us? Might such blinkers not inhibit awareness of opportunity, dull the creativity to connect our services to other people’s needs (which requires discerning that these are other people and may have needs that may not immediately occur to us), or lessen the capacity to communicate across disagreements or barriers? What is the motivation for such tunnel vision?

Someone who delivers on their accountabilities, understands and abides by agreements, refuses to make paltry excuses (like “meetings”), responds clearly and proactively, is a pleasure to interact with, is aware of the world around them, and enjoys expressing as well as receiving civility and service, is almost in  a league by themselves. Their businesses will flourish, their lives will be enriched.

Let’s join them!

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Welcome Rituals

Each year if in New York for New Year’s Eve, my wife and I “run away from home”. We live on 56th, just off Park Avenue in New York. So to escape the bedlam of midtown Manhattan and to ensure we aren’t even tempted to go tromping through the winter slush in the direction of Times Square with its teeming crowds, we go 20 blocks north to the Upper East Side — a venerable and gracious part of Manhattan.

We check into the legendary Carlyle hotel, the art deco gem that has been a bastion of New York since 1930 — a hub of elegance and gracious taste.  Our suite has a baby grand piano, a terrace, and beds that you sink into, layer by layer.

Upon arrival circa lunch-time on the 30th, we walk over to Sant Ambroeus on Madison Avenue (which originally started life as a Milano pastry shop before migrating to Greenwich Village)…for a palate and soul-satisfying lunch — and arguably the best cappuccino in town. Then to Maison du Chocolat for a velvety dark hot chocolate. A traipse past numerous legendary retailers and we end up at Crawford Doyle, a book store reminiscent of how book stores should be. In short, knowledgeable staff, a carefully tapered and updated selection, civilized people capable of insightful exchanges or at least literate banter. They love hearing of our ritual in this store — it’s a succession of little experiences Henry James would have fashioned into an evocative tale with such aplomb.

A drink in Bemelman’s Bar at the Carlyle as a reminder of bars that invite human interaction and almost help you mature a few notches by being in them. Then dinner at the sumptuously appointed Carlyle Restaurant where classics like rack of lamb and Long Island Duck with Ligonberry sauce are rendered as they should be. A beautiful Cote du Rhone,  Chapoutier Hermitage (1999) caressed our palates with its power and finish.

An Ipod dock in the suite, a vintage cognac, a few puffs of my cigar polish off the first evening.

The 31st finds us lingering over Cinammon Toast and fruit, The Financial Times and some brief correspondence. Snow is falling — we are truly in the midst of a winter wonderland. Our tradition is a long walk through Central Park, to Belvedere Castle, across the Ramble and back, emerging near the Metropolitan Museum. We beat the crowds (just!) at J.G. Melon’s. Even the Michelin Guide gives it gushing mention. But generations of New Yorkers have already discovered and adored this place, for its jovial, no-nonsense, bustling atmosphere, and one of the best, most unfussy, but juicy and memorable burgers you’ll ever have.  A little shopping and we’re back. We’ll meet some friends for an early drink at Plaza Athenee (a bit of the Continent graciously transported to New York), then partake in another ritual, New Year’s Eve dinner at the exceptional Cafe Boulud (one of Daniel Boulud’s most exceptional restaurants, less flashy than his flagship Daniel, but with real soul). It’s across the street from The Carlyle, so the commute is just right.

We travel for a living…so for us familiarity rather than novelty is what we seek in our time to ourselves. But rituals of this ilk allow us to deepen enjoyment and appreciation each year, to bask rather than flit. Such times liberate our attention and energy and focus for each other, for other loved ones, and the abundant joy of life lived with grateful appreciation — a true “recharge” and “re-creation”.

Happy New Year everyone!

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How Hard Can You Try To Get it Wrong?

A man attempted to set ablaze if not blow up a flight headed from Amsterdam to Detroit. The flight originated in Nigeria, and the alleged perpetrator (not so “alleged” as he put himself on fire!) was on a terrorist watch list.

Why was he allowed to get on a plane, particularly one headed to the US? The inanity is mind-boggling. We’re told he was on a “watch list” but the concerns weren’t “aviation related” and so he wasn’t on a No Fly list! Spend a bit of time on that one and see if you can extract any sense from that. A terrorist may surely switch their focus without broadcasting it to intelligence officials. Surely a simple rule that we don’t want people on a terrorist watch list on airplanes wouldn’t be too controversial?

Moreover, if a potential terrorist presents themselves at an airport, pays all cash for his ticket (as he did), has no checked luggage and the smallest possibly carry-on, don’t we want to flag this somehow in a common database so he can be detained, searched and questioned? Why do we think there is union discipline among terrorists whereby say railway bombers don’t step on the turf of airline arsonists and vice-versa?

This gets even more bizarre. The Nigerian terror suspect was refused a re-entry visa into the UK 7 years ago for various reasons — one, he was known to have some ties with radical Islamic extremists, but also because he claimed he was returning to carry out studies at a University that doesn’t exist! Surely, that was a modest red flag. Less than a month ago, his own father reported to the US Embassy his concerns about his son’s ties to extremists! When your Dad turns you in (an affluent and respected individual), you’d think (and here the consultant in me comes forth), you’d get that information disseminated to border patrol, airlines and more. Shockingly, the re-entry visa to the US of this individual was kept valid despite what had happened in the UK and this information from his father. My own uncle (I’m an American, but originally was from Pakistan), who has a son who is a US citizen, was himself former Pakistan Finance Secretary, and is over 80, needed over 4 months to get his own multiple entry visa re-issued! Surely we’re missing the point in how we focus our energies?

There are now largely irrelevant panic-stricken knee-jerk responses. So now coming into the US, we are told no one can get up in the last hour before landing (that’s when the incident occurred). What if the next person does something in the first hour? So then we can’t get up in the first hour either? What is the relevance of the “last hour” necessarily to this incident? We had blown our obligation for due diligence well before we got to that point. No blankets on our laps in the last hour either we are told. How ridiculous! Talk about locking the gate after the horse has bolted!

If this happened from someone we had no reason to be concerned over — not a one way ticket buyer denied a visa in the UK and on a terrorist watch list — maybe we would say we’re down to that and have no choice. But why is the response to inconvenience as many law-abiding citizens, further decimating the airline industry as people further try to avoid air travel,  for what are utter lapses in inter-agency communication and scrutiny? Why this rush to more indiscriminate symptom management? So we’re all to interfere with countless businesses and lives to compensate for lack of integration and competence? This needs surgery, not Pavlovian mania.

Rushing to “ban” peripheral activities that are often quality of life issues (say for a shivering passenger wanting a blanket, or a pregnant woman needing the bathroom) is an almost insulting response to such a core breakdown.

Congratulations to the passengers and crew. We’ve at least as a public started to re-empower ourselves. It’s high time that same accountability filters through to the inane if not insane ways our intelligence lists are managed, shared…and acted upon.

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Reality Where is Thy Sting?

Frank Rich wrote in The New York Times that Tiger Woods should be nominated “person of the year”. Why? Because the chasm between his public persona and his frenzied personal antics and peccadilloes seems emblematic of a rather tawdry decade, book-ended by Enron and Woods, with Iraq war fictions and sub-prime meltdowns in between.

We have reached that period where people truly cannot distinguish between “status” and “stature”. More’s the pity. Nonsense eventually reveals itself, and the debacle of the “Me” decade where we sought personal identity from retail logos and gadgets, impoverishing our discernment and perhaps our souls in the process, is now before us. The debris of reality-avoidance and narcissistic self-indulgence, of chastising political candidates who make us think and mulishly following those who beat their chests, is everywhere.

But if these icons have been shown to be incontestably hollow, where does that leave us? Do we rend our garments, flagellate ourselves, what?

Maybe it’s time to remember instead that human progress has depended on substance, not spin. It is the evolution of social institutions, the wide scale dissemination of education, Gutenberg and the printing press, the Enlightenment, the industrial revolution, the expansion of voting, Civil Rights and more. None of these came from congratulating ourselves for fluff and having role models who had to parade themselves as paragons for the rest of us to build esteem vicariously from.

Let’s get back to education. Let’s demand accountability from leaders. Let’s rise to the responsibility of active citizenship. Let’s rebuild families rather than using electronic babysitters for our kids. Let’s balance budgets, personal ones and national ones, and let’s restore common sense. Let’s not be bought off by pyrotechnics, in war or in economics.

It has been said that life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think. We need to feel more passionately and think more clearly.

It’s time to get real.

The hope was that President Obama’s election was an augury of a new decade to come. But not if we think we can delegate our future prospects to him or any other leader.

We have to live the words so beloved to Nelson Mandela from the poem Invictus,  “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”  It’s time to reclaim that mastery and leadership.

Baby steps are fine. But let’s break ground on a better, more worthy decade!

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A Tour of Latour!

Superlatives tend to be gushed too readily. “The best ever,” “amazing”, “world class”, etc. But what can you say about the annual event at Hotel Beau Rivage in Geneve, where each year, a highly bespoke wine event, manages to  outdo rational expectations?

Last year, we tasted all the Bordeaux First Growths in the extraordinary 1947 Vintage. Added to their roster were Cheval Blanc, Mission Haut Brion, Gruaud Larose, Chateau Gillette and d’Yquem.

This year we were treated to a Vertical tasting of Chateau Latour…in particular legendary vintages like 1982, 1961, 1947 and 1945. What makes this wine tasting experience so special is a variety of truly “superlative” factors.

Usually only 10-14 people attend per occasion.

The Hotel Beau Rivage is the last privately owned hotel in Geneva. These wines were laid down when released and have never moved since. Zero bottle shock! The provenance is virtually guaranteed.

The evening began with a Deutz Blanc de Blanc Champagne from 2004 in magnum, with Foie Gras and Iberico ham among other canapes.

Led by World Champion Sommelier Enrico Bernardo (having won best Sommelier in Italy, then winning the World Sommelier award, past Chef Sommelier at Le Cinq at Hotel George V in Paris, and now running a highly innovative restaurant “Il Vino” in Paris — a wine restaurant in that you select the wine, and they compose the dinner around the wine —  tipped to be moving from one to two Michelin stars), we then tasted 2002, 1996, 1990, 1982 and 1978. The 1996  is currently quite delightful, (evocative of the ’66), the ’90 is currently not at its best but promises future splendors, the ’82 was a revelation, and the ’78 a real surpise — probably at its peak now.

We then had a “pause”, but what a pause! We had Amour de Deutz champagne from 1999 in magnum, with a few more Foie Gras and Parma frivolities.

We resumed the “serious” matter of wallowing in the glories of Latour. We moved on to the ’75, ’61 (exceptional and will only improve), ’53, ’47 (at it’s very best now — feminine and elegant), ’45 (powerful and intense, and still likely to unfold further in appeal and impact).

But this was just the beginning! We then repaired to a stunning dinner at Chat Botte (“Puss in Boots” believe it or not), one of the best restaurants in Europe arguably, finally recognized this year by the occasionally wayward Michelin inspectors. The menu follows.

Then to a private room where we had Cigars especially rolled by Davidoff for the occasion with 100 year old Audry Cognac. Magnifique! And for once, there isn’t the slightest hyperbole in attaching that appellation to the evening.

There was debate about favorite wines, meditation on life and it’s often furtive pleasures, sobering reflections of the year past, aspirations and hopes for the year ahead, the sharing of laughter and friendship and oenophilic and gastronomic pleasures.

While our party was not nearly so  expansive in mood as in past years, we dove into these rare pleasures with special gratitude for those we love, appreciation for those we serve in our businesses, and a sense of just reflection at the multi-faceted textures, challenges and opportunities of life.

La vie est belle! (Life is beautiful!)

MENU

Cream of chestnuts and skewer of scallops with white truffles served with Mario Schiopetto Bianco 2006 Venezia Giulia


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Tartare of Cape langoustine with melanosporum truffles and Moulin de Calanquet olive oil served with Pouilly Fume Silex 2006 Didier Dagueneau

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Ile d’Yeu cooked white, with Sologne farmed caviar served with Batard Montrachet 1983 Bouchard Pere et Fils

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Small foie gras ravioli and wild pheasant with truffle consomme served with Corton Grand Cru  1971 “Clos De La Vigne au Saint” Louis Latour

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Bresse chicken cooked in two styles, with forgotten vegetables (“truffier de legumes oublies) served with Chateau Lafite Rotschild 1945, Premier Grand Cru Classe de Pauillac

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Chilled Delight

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Macaroon surprise served with Chateau Gillette 1937, Grand Vin de Sauternes


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Updating Relationships

Relationships matter now more than ever.

This is sometimes assumed to be a tropism, a natural or innate tendency.

It’s not. It’s a cultivated skill, propensity and reflex. To relate to someone is to first understand them and connect with them on their own terms. It is secondarily to understand how to be helpful to them in appropriate ways, not excessively or obsequiously, not pandering to them, but just seeking to be of value.

And in establishing that rapport, trust and credibility, to be eligible to also be understood and connected with in turn, to also hopefully be someone reciprocally cared about and also potentially added value to.

Harvey Mackay put it poignantly, “dig the well before you’re thirsty.” In other words, relationships have to precede our need for them. And whatever it is we seek, be it respect, or understanding, love, or value, we had best offer it ourselves, passionately, authentically and unstintingly. People who do seem to outlay these things proactively, invite and seem to enjoy abundance. Those that cling to these things, doling them out reluctantly and parsimoniously, seem to invite a corresponding poverty into their lives.

The play IN THE NEXT ROOM (or the Vibrator Play) is a saucy, juicy, provocative, titillating (if occasionally a bit too extended) tale of Victorian repression and how women (and “artistic” men) came to doctors to be cured of “hysteria” (emotional anguish leading to a deadening of physical responses) by virtue of “paroxysms” (today referred to by other names with more recreational than therapeutic implications) brought about by vibrators.

But the play is really about personal fulfillment, the right to need emotions and self-expression, and the  default drive to find substitutes (if we must) for the love, passion and intimacy we really seek. But it isn’t just about vibrators. There are all kinds of toys we turn to,  and varieties of what has been called “cheap grace” from booze, to drugs, to consumerism, to promiscuity (the other extreme of repression).

Relationships are at essence about our need to touch and be touched…emotionally and physically. Let us open ourselves up over this period in particular, to giving in expanded ways…and receiving. And indeed these will then be, happy holidays! And the period will “vibrate” with far more expansive positive paroxysms (as well as gentler fulfillments) of all kinds than ever before.

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Choose the Part You Want To Address

Why do we feel we have to strike a haughty tone when dealing with people?

Years ago the researchers behind Transactional Analysis (TA) warned us of the dangers of Parent-Child conversations. Being chided, either the child in us pouts and huffs off — or erupts, or our own Paternal counter-judgement is invoked — a retaliatory defensiveness.

Instead if we can make requests or points addressing the maturity of the other person, speaking to the better angels in their nature, enrolling their positive pride, eliciting their commitment for something we want to advance together, we’ll get far more resourcefulness from them.

We’ll then be more likely to tap their passion and their gifts, rather than their tap dancing skills.

Whether with customers, suppliers, colleagues, partners, or anyone else — give people something to live up to in the way that you address them. Leaven judgment with appreciation and approbation, bring in objectivity and curiousity to soften the sting of sometimes necessary observations, and above all address the person you want them to be, not the crackpot that may occasionally emerge under stress. “I like who I am when I’m with you” is not a bad aspiration to try and make true for those who relate with us, in both our professional and personal lives.

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Karma Fostering Leadership Largesse

  1. Test your intelligence by challenging it, flexing it, extending it, giving it a novel work-out, or deploying it in an uncertain situation to create new and unanticipated value. The more you ask of your intelligence, the more it will give back.
  2. Give the best possible information you can to others. Be clear, complete, informative, incisive, and indicate what needs to be done. And always taper what you convey to what others need to know and perhaps want to understand, rather than gratuitously broadcasting your eloquence without purpose.
  3. Enjoy your eccentricities as well as those of others. We are a mass of eccentricities, they are the coordinates of our uniqueness. However as we revel in our own, let’s remember to also accept and enjoy those of others. None of us are ‘normal’, and the most abnormal things happen when we try to be.
  4. Provide some extra unexpected value to an external or internal customer. When they are positively surprised and ask why, you have a chance to let them know in what ways they are distinctively important to you and deeply valued.
  5. Volunteer at your child’s school. Make time, make a choice, make a difference. You will emerge with an expanded vision of life and the stakes involved in us adults being good life coaches, role models, and trustworthy friends.
  6. Whenever you read anything, a memo, a report, a book, a newspaper article, a love letter, remind yourself of the purpose for which you are reading. Then savor the reading and derive value from it accordingly. Pick the intensity of the reading, the mood, the ambience, and your quality of attention accordingly.
  7. Focus is the key to success — don’t do everything at once. You can ‘nibble’ at tasks that are peripheral, but really important work requires dedicated attention. Pick what matters most and commit your best energy to it. How long matters less than how well and how completely you immerse.
  8. Leaders often need to do strenuous mental work. We should revitalize by shifting tempo and activities. Regularly, as a real pattern interrupt, do something physically active that oxygenates the blood, allows you to sweat out stress and toxins, and gives you a glow of physical well being in the aftermath.
  9. Be open to improvising. So often we don’t know the answer, can’t imagine the right way forward, are ‘stuck’. So we do something, we adapt, we experiment, we take a chance, we stir the pot, we stimulate some reaction and stimulate a way forward.
  10. Wherever you go, whatever you’re doing, see if you can leave a bit more joy in your wake than you found when you arrived. As a way to do this, notice people. The person who pours your water, or checks your ticket at the cinema, or sells you fruit on the street, or wraps your purchase…really SEE them, notice them, acknowledge them. It’s not only good to do, it’s great training for our senses, our awareness, and perhaps our soul.
  11. Take a hand-delivered thank you note to someone you want to acknowledge at work. Take a hand-delivered “I love you” telegram to someone you really love outside of work. Find the words, find the occasion, honor the person.
  12. It’s easy to babble over what someone is saying, or to leap to conclusions, or to listen half-heartedly. Not everyone manages to convey the fullness of their message in the first two sentences. Listen to the whole answer, listen to the whole message. As you hear more, you can do more with it.
  13. Galileo once said to his colleagues that they should assume their own theories were wrong and seek to disprove them. Only when they could no longer disprove them, but had no choice left but to accept them, should they say they were correct. This dedication to truth, this openness to find out the way things are, this openness to test assumptions and dig deep into situations, is something we have to foster in ourselves and our teams.
  14. Make meals a celebration. ‘Breaking bread’ together is an act of kinship and fellowship. We need to invest such times with attentive appreciation, rather than lackluster complacency. We all have to bring the fun in us and with us.
  15. Occasionally, break a pattern. Get up earlier than usual and go for a morning run with friends. Go to bed a bit later that evening and listen to Beethoven’s Ninth with a glass (or bottle) of wine you haven’t tried before. Read a point of view that challenges yours. Order something totally different at a favorite restaurant. Sleep on the other side of the bed. Change your ‘look’ for a day. Positively acknowledge something good in a person who infuriates you usually. Volunteer a favor for your spouse. Do something different in other words…as we expand our paradigms, we expand ourselves.
  16. When you get home, let your posture, your actions, your willingness to relax, your openness to engage loved ones, convey that you have returned to a wonderful oasis, and to a remarkable opportunity to nurture and be nurtured…though sometimes to infuriate and be infuriated too if we’re honest! But take off your shoes, and take off your terminal seriousness and remove a few layers of your world weariness. Everyone has issues and problems. And you can help each other with them — but create a mood of community and connection first.
  17. Master a new skill, be it technological, artistic, business-related, interpersonal or otherwise. A new skill will require new thinking, fresh adaptation, necessary evolution. Not a bad collection of benefits to reel in from time to time!
  18. Become a connoisseur of language and communication. But also ensure your words reflect your real intent, and some of your compassion along with your intelligence. And the way to calibrate communication is always from the impact it has on others. Become a student of impact and you will invariably heighten your communication prowess.
  19. Make your work meaningful. Create a role to which you can fully give yourself — at least for some time. When you’ve found that, you can focus on truly growing rather than just artfully coping. If you don’t find it ready made, help to design and invent it in a way that produces value for your organization and team.
  20. You can’t change what you can’t face. First accept yourself as you are. That will give you the energy, the motivation and the necessary self-confidence to create compelling change. If daunted, start small, but keep moving. Each bit of progress fertilizes our self-belief.
  21. One way to enlarge your own perspective, find someone who sees things quite differently, and engage with them until you can begin to at least glimpse the world as they see it. Then return to your own view and expand and enhance it from there.
  22. Get to know your team. Use projects as a way to build up a leadership and team culture that exemplifies the way you want to interact overall. Projects are a way to deliver results; they are also labs for how we wish to interact, communicate, engage and behave.
  23. When it’s salad instead of steak, enjoy the health-giving benefits, the lightness, the wellness, the pleasure of flooding your body with needed vitamins and minerals. When it’s steak instead of salad, enjoy the voluptuous delight, and let your enjoyment foster your sense of well-being in a different way. Either way, and in fact in every possible way, expand your capacity for joy.
  24. Be astute, be attentive, be present. Hone your powers of observation so you aren’t easily hoodwinked by appearances or seduced down blind alleys. Remember the wisdom that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave to his creation, Sherlock Holmes, “When you have eliminated what is impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Let’s be observant enough to spot the nuggets of insight and opportunity that so often lie in front of us, awaiting our discovery.
  25. We have to create possibilities, not wallow in obstacles. Never argue for limitations, look for ways to re-imagine and re-invent. We have to be architects, not just mechanics. Our job is to enroll and align others to help us imagine and then create the future.

In short, let’s help create the Karma we wish to experience!

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Oleanna

David Mamet, playwright and screenwriter extraordinaire is at it again. His electrifying play Oleanna is back in New York. When it was last here, at a time when political correctness was far more charged as a topic, couples left the theater polarized, some people even came to blows! The subtitle of the play warns you that whichever side you take, you’re wrong.

Perhaps that’s because this isn’t a play about “sides”. There is no one to cheer. As one commentator said in the “Talk Back” series that takes place after every performance on Broadway (with a facilitator and two panelists), “He’s a fool and she’s a tool.” Hmmm.

Okay, a bit of background. “Oleanna” is probably “Oleana”, the settlement that Ole Bull, the famed Norwegian virtuoso violinist established for himself and fellow Norwegian emigres in the 1800’s to escape the strictures of their home country. Alas the land was unsuitable for farming, much money was lost by the settlers, and most, including Ole Bull had to flee back to Norway. Today the site is commemorated by “Ole Bull National Park” in Pennsylvania. An “Oleana” now refers to any hopeless pursuit of a Utopian state of affairs where it is naively believed anything is possible.

One wonders if Mamet is chastising society for having myopic views of political correctness or relations between the sexes, or if he’s referring to an idealistic view of education held by the professor, or an idealized view of “class” and “elites” and “power” expressed by the student and the political support group she seems to be a part of. Perhaps all of the above?

On the surface, a student on the verge of failing, desperate not to, visits her teacher and vacillates between self-pity, hopelessness and accusation towards the professor, who in turn seems to trivialize her plight, evidently distracted by a pending house purchase and the hen-pecking telephone attentions of his wife. However in her flailing the student says he is implying she is stupid and will never succeed. This triggers a reaction, as the professor then cathartically (it seems) reveals how he was accused of stupidity growing up, and then proceeds to regale her with a narcissistic diatribe about the shortcomings of college education, equating it to a form of “hazing” where education is secondary to protocol. With an evident Savior complex, he claims that if she will re-engage relative to the course with him, he will give her an A to remove any stress and they’ll start over — he’ll ensure she gets the education she deserves from this course  because he “likes her”.

In the second act, we find she has lodged a complaint of inappropriate conduct and sexual harassment! His tenure which was all but confirmed, is now on hold, he can’t close on his house, which seems to vex his wife above all else, and he attempts to psychoanalyze the student’s accusations as “anger” at various aspects of life. She is having none of it, calling what she has claimed, not allegations but  “facts”. Towards the end as the encounter escalates, he tries to stop her from leaving , she struggles and cries out very vocally, if arguably excessively, for help.

By the third act, he is a mess. He’s being dismissed — after the last incident the university committee has come to believe her (we now know why offices today have glass walls and why people leave doors open or have third parties present!) — and now she explodes with derision at him, pointing out that she now has power as he once did, and making demands that his book be expunged from the curriculum — this apparently is a demand from her “group” who all feel each others pain we are told and clearly have an agenda. Some have described this as also a play about “intellectual terrorism”.

She calls him sexist, elitist, feeling entitled to a house, and advantages for his son and more. He keeps saying “I feel…” and she explodes, “I don’t care what you feel!”  Indeed, neither of them do care in that way about the other, and that’s the wick running through this.

The final violent confrontation is precipitated when she starts telling him not to call his wife “baby”. By so doing, she crosses a line that triggers him to cross the line too. He erupts into physical violence, leaving her to say in the aftermath, with grim if shaken satisfaction, “That’s right.” She’s wrung it out of him at last — he now has to obey her dictates and that of her group, or his life is irretrievably over.

He was indeed a fool. He frittered away his power by continuing the discussion when he could have ended it initially, by not listening fully when he then opened the door for her to share, and then made her a “project”, a demo for his own evangel. He never saw her as a real person, with her specific fragility, flaws and needs. He never sought to serve her, but his own vision of her when she mentioned feeling “stupid”, because suddenly he could personalize her plight, and the thought of helping her through this may even have been therapeutic for him.

For her, rather than aim to succeed in her subject and ask for real help, she translated her despair into anger, her scholastic challenge into a holier-than-thou sense of victimhood in search of an oppressor to bring down. She saw him as someone whose need for the status quo in life (tenure, family, home) made him vulnerable and able to potentially be manipulated.

The ultimate sin of both of them was to look at each other as objects, as means to their own ends — be those ends emotional, educational, career or political agenda related. She became an obstacle to a house closing (which seemed the only real relevance of tenure to him, certainly not pride in a calling), and he became a mode of dissemination of certain ideas and a means of censoring others. Martin Buber would have called this an “I-It” relationship rather than an “I-You” much less “I-Thou” relationship (from objectifying to respecting boundaries to valuing intrinsically someone else’s needs and feelings).

Let us all beware. People come to us for help. If we don’t wish to and don’t need to help them, don’t prolong their agony, don’t drag it out. Focus on the house closing or spousal phone call or whatever. Or reschedule if you want to help but can’t at that moment. If you opt to help, listen to them, look at them, feel with them — don’t look for undue parallels in your own life — no one has invited you to kick-off an emotional strip show. You might share a vulnerability, but know your motives, and your boundaries.

In engaging each other, let’s see if we can find and locate value in each other’s worlds, anxieties, hopes and dreams. We have to make sure that ISN’T an “Oleana” but a real possibility.

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