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Dr. Alan Weiss Interviews Omar Khan

Click on the arrow below to listen to this rare interview where million dollar consultant, Alan Weiss, interviews global consultant, Omar Khan

A Content Free Zone!

Listening today to US government representatives intoning platitudes about the potentially epochal happenings in the Middle East, was both dispiriting and instructive in a broader sense.

Interviewers would ask about the lessons of Egypt, our 30 years of support for an increasingly imperious dictator, the behavior of the Bahraini government before being reined in by global opinion and US pressure, the prospect of the Muslim Brotherhood stepping into the breach in Egypt and more. Almost as if the nuances and specifics of the question didn’t matter, out would come on auto-pilot, the almost statutory talking points.

Generic codswallop about “we support democracy”, “we are behind the legitimate aspirations of the people of….(fill in the blank),” “everyone should be peaceful”, “we have been sending this message for years” (one is reminded about the old saw of insanity having to do with repeating the same things over and over and hoping for different results), “we vetoed the UN resolution calling the Israeli settlements illegal because we think they are illegitimate but not illegal and we’re trying to get he parties to the table” (Heaven forefend that we actually do so any time in the near future, but it’s a lovely bit of rhetorical flotsam).

An entirely content free zone. No insight, no analysis, no self-criticism, no indication that we don’t have a pathological immunity to learning (why our “intelligence” community missed the Iranian revolution and the Egyptian ‘implosion’ with virtually equal obliviousness for example), nothing that would be more than a PR slogan. The devolution of discourse is alarming. No one in a politically representative position says anything. We hope they think something, and their thoughts have greater gravitas than their lacunae-riddled  public statements.

How it would be nice to hear any of the following:

*The oil resources of the Middle East are central to our economy. Hence its stability has been construed to be a strategic priority. This has led to us supporting some very unsavory regimes and leaders.

*Mubarak kept the Camp David Peace Accords together after the assassination of Sadat. This has kept the Middle East from war. Because with Egypt being an ally of the United States and Israel, such a war would be unthinkable. Mubarak has also helped with arms embargoes to Gaza and more. Given that, while we could entreat him to be more rational as a dictator (not flash his pictures or his progeny or his loot so palpably, not to so egregiously steal elections and silence dissenters), we were between the Devil and the deep blue sea.

*We cannot of course take a stance against the peaceful aspirations of a populace, and this caught us completely off guard — the maturity, grace and courage of the Egyptian people gives us both pause and hope.

*The Muslim Brotherhood is a minority party in Egypt and we should not attempt to make them into a bogey-man. We have to hope that the entire spectrum of Egyptian opinion can be expressed when political parties are formed and true elections held. We will do whatever we can to assist this process.

*The events now occurring in other parts of the Middle East, require a delicate balancing act from us. We support such aspirations, but have realities to contend with, like a naval fleet parked in Bahrain and that country’s role as a US staging post in many ways.

*Our move to alternative energy is critical. The reason Iran continues as it does, is because of petro-dollars. Absent such income, all such regimes would have to tap their human capital. That would mean legitimizing themselves and enrolling the commitment of their people, tapping their productive energies. Then ideology and pragmatism would be allied. Over time, that is the synergy that changes the world.

As leaders, political leaders or business leaders, apply this litmus test to what you say in public.

1) Will this put the most critical issues into sharper relief and give us the right terms for engagement in a dialogue?

2) Will people have learned something by the time I’m done conveying the message that they didn’t know prior?

3) Is there enough authenticity and candor that people will trust future messages, or will they tune-out rather than be numbed insensate by what is little more than elocution practice?

Too much is afoot in the world for us to tolerate empty blandishments and talking points. We need insight, we need courage, we need awareness and we need action.

Perhaps rather than preening for cameras, our “leaders” can transform our own seeming contempt for the perspicacity of those who listen to us, as a way to role-model to dictators the need to respect the more basic rights of their populace. Yes, these are at very different levels of a Maslowian Hierarchy of Needs. But why not start with our own reflexes? Radical change is so much easier to preach elsewhere than to exemplify at home. That may be why our posturing looks so hollow and sounds so often shrill.

Let’s really talk — the genius of the American system is the mobilizing and transforming power of dialogue as it ripples through the various organs of power. We can be a lot smarter than we currently sound.

Judged By What?

I’m astonished by the number of people who bristle when you challenge them. Even if you challenge them on observable behavior (i.e. not letting others complete their sentences, or pecking at their “Crackberry” during a critical presentation, or being habitually late armed with a newly varnished excuse each time), they act as if you’ve launched an existential attack on the very basis of their being or worth.

Here is an anomaly. We believe we know what we’re capable of. So rather than being judged on what we do, we expect people to give us a break on the basis of what we’re capable of. The average person will not oblige. Life is short, they’ll extrapolate from their present experience of you. That’s the impetus to get the job done today, to get your act together now, to do what you say and finish what you start. Despite that, you will have blinkers and issues — we all do. Great leaders will see past the mists of your limitations and the storm clouds in your emotional weather systems and glimpse your larger abilities and perhaps even your positive intent. They will then challenge you to step up to the first and better exemplify the second. They will customize how they engage you, reinforce you and enroll you accordingly. When you experience such a leader or team…hallelujah! But if you need such a leader or team to come through…your life will be one of perennial disappointment and vexation.

Most of us judge others on the impact they have on us. Whether they intended it or not seems not to matter. “It hurt!” And if you didn’t know it would hurt me…well you should have! Or so is the implication inherent in our bruised outrage. On the other hand if we have a negative impact on someone else, and we know it’s not what we intended, we feel a sense of injustice if the other person judges us on impact rather than intent. Of course they often don’t know our intent, but damn it, they should! Or again, so is the implication as we nurse our bitterness. Always become a student of impact, and explore intent. Defer reactions until you’re on the other side of that exploration.

So, should we be judged by actions or by potential? Should we be judged by impact or intent? Both.

We must drive our actions and build confidence in ourselves and others by reaching for our potential, “failing forward” if we must.

We must be sensitive to impact and taper communication to the receiver, rather than exalting the sender (us). At the same time, we must drive the real intent forward if it really matters. We can’t let volatility of impact have us withdraw…that’s just a form of manipulation. Similarly we must make ourselves easy to engage…less prickles and more hospitality for collaboration.

Let’s ask to be judged by who we are today, and coached towards who we can become. Let’s own our impact, but share our intent. Let’s share impact on us, and be open to understanding the best intent of the other person. As we do, we improve our accountability and our capacity, both for performance and building productive relationships with others.

On This Night of…32 Stars!

Some events deserve all the gushing accolades they can garner.

What else could one say about the pantheon of greats that came together to pay tribute to D’Artagnan’s (the fine food purveyor who enabled the great Chefs of New York to bring in items like Foie Gras in the 80’s with which to revolutionize our palates?) 25th anniversary?

Ariane Daguin is a lady of commanding presence, ineffable grace and surpassing hospitality. The evening was a testament to the power of relationships. For the “32 Stars” being referenced is the number of New York Times and Michelin Stars amassed by the chefs who were assembled and who collaborated to produce this quite unique evening.

The concept, was straightforward. Reception at Daniel. Aperitif? As it was D’Artagnan and the theme was an invasion of the Gascons, we started with a Gascony classic: Pousse Rapiere. Normally a combination of Armagnac, Grand Marnier and Champagne, this evening it was Armagnac infused with Oranges, a few cloves, a little sugar and then the champagne! Marvelous!

As we roamed, we experienced gorgeous Duck Samosas from Philippe Combet (One Michelin Star), an amazing Foie Gras and Prune Creme Brulee from One Michelin Star Chef Eric Sampietro and more.

The first two courses of this voluptuous meal were served at Daniel. The first a collaboration between Daniel and Two Michelin Star Chef Jean Marie Gautier of Hotel du Palais, Biarritz. Poached Foie Gras of Duck with Red wine and Fig Chutney, served with a sweet Jurancon. Then Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park prepared with Two Star Michelin Chef Jacques Pourcel an amazing Scallop dish with a Truffle vinaigrette.

We then moved into a luxury coach where Armagnac was flowing and arrived at Jean Georges, another 4 New York Star, 3 Michelin Star marvel. Here Jean Georges prepared with Three Star Michelin Chef Michel Bras of Laguiole a quite stunning Pigeon dish, paired beautifully with a 2002 Madiran and a Cahors Malbec 2000.

Across the street to Per Se, where Thomas Keller and Two Michelin Star Chef Helene Darroze prepared Capon two ways…rich, gorgeous, flavorful, with the wine highlight of the evening, Imperials and Magnums of Chateau Lynch Bages 1985.

Finally, back on the bus one more time to arrive at Le Bernardin. Here Michael Laiskonis of Le Bernardin and Thierry Marx (One Michelin Star) from Cordeillan-Bages prepared two luscious desserts, with which a seductive Tokai and Jurancon “Folie de Janvier” shone.

At Le Bernardin our table included Anthony Bourdain, David Rosengarten (Wine Editor, Saveur), Jean Michel Cazes (owner of Lynch Bages) and others. I was interviewed by the New York Times, and at the instigation of Daniel who proclaimed me “un vraimant gourmand”, I was interviewed on French television.

Le Bernardin was buzzing with camaraderie, mutual respect, affection, joy and enthusiasm. Extraordinary cuisine and superb wine had served not as ends unto themselves, but as true conduits. Like the symposium of old, these inducements had expanded awareness, wit and consciousness.

To Ariane and D’artagnan and to the relationships forged with so many friends who have become not only stars, but mini constellations in the culinary world, all happy to come and wish a dear friend and treasured partner well, felicitations and Happy Anniversary!

“The Spirit of Learning”

My co-author Alan Weiss and I received some unsolicited, hopefully well-intended, feedback about our book, THE GLOBAL CONSULTANT. The person bristled at our suggesting the world by and large sought out American thought-leadership in business and management.

In acknowledging other world-class centers of learning however, by error when we wrote our draft, we placed INSEAD in Switzerland rather than France (it also has a campus in Singapore). We may have had IMD in mind, or we might have just made an honest error. Alas, three sets of editors (two in Singapore, and one in the United Kingdom) failed to catch it, and it made it’s way into print.

It is one line in a 284 page book, commending INSEAD by the way (though this writer suggested we had insulted INSEAD by getting its location wrong, — AND he suggested we may have offended IMD too on the off chance we actually had it in mind!). Surely INSEAD’s self-esteem is not so precarious, even if this writer is demonstrating that his own might be.

This one oversight, seems to draw fire from more than one person who seems unsettled by some of our observations, and can find nothing substantive in the book to decry. People have said imperiously that this error erodes our overall credibility,  even that it shows we don’t know anything about Europe — thereby displaying their loose handle on logic (how does getting a location of a university wrong accidentally, show anything about your overall cultural, economic, historical or other knowledge of an entire Continent?).

I mention this because if I read a 240 (or so) page book, and wrote in, spending several paragraphs on a minor publishing gaffe , I’d have to wonder what the book stirred in me. A desire for real learning would have me wondering why I’m so bothered, why I needed to find such a dubious scapegoat within the book so that I could vent.

This particular writer caps his comments by saying he hopes we “appreciate” the input “in the spirit of learning”.  Well, we’re happy to learn of an error, even a truly inadvertent one like this. But the “spirit of learning” is the last thing that comes across in the communication. So, let’s just use this as a quick case-study on offering input that truly might stimulate learning.

Stated as it is, with such sweepingly excessive conclusions, this communication makes one wonder at the motivation for the observations. This distracts from any “learning” that may otherwise take place. So, first if you want to communicate a view, keep the focus on the learning you want to share, or the real point, minimize off-ramps and gratuitous secondary conclusions from your observations.

Then, give prime-time to what really matters to you in the communication. And be honest as to whether you’re sharing that you’re just emotionally miffed for whatever personal reason, or making a point you want intellectual engagement on.

The truth is the writer seems to really be annoyed about the perceived US-centrism of some of our comments in the opening chapters (he confessed to only having made it to page 39). Our actual point was that in an earlier age, we would have sounded more French-centric or English-centric, tomorrow we may be more China-centric. At the time of writing, we were speaking about American predominance in the world of management thinking and also global business given the overall size of the US economy. It was factual, not subjective. It wasn’t a paean to cultural or economic “manifest destiny”. It was about facing facts — so we can build on them —  for consulting and business success. We clearly mentioned that as these facts change, so would the specifics of our advice. We’d have suggested learning French in the 18th century, do suggest English for today and may suggest Mandarin and Hindi 20 or so years from now. Let’s see.

Had the writer focused their comments on this issue, we might have had a fascinating and illuminating dialogue. Harping on a relatively trivial reference (trivial to the sweep of the book and the point being made), was a distraction and an emotional indulgence that was intriguing, but not in the way intended.

Finally, choose your irritations carefully. Opt to be far more often amused or even bemused if you like. And if irritation keeps getting the better of you, ask first what YOU can learn from it, before asking others to be educated by a display of your annoyance, especially when accompanied by rickety logic and odd inductive liberties you’re taking. The more you come from composure, are relaxed and flexible, the more you are likely to generate as well as communicate points worth learning from. You don’t need to get your hackles up to be impactful. On the contrary.

Reflexive ire and pulpit pounding don’t produce the spirit of learning. The spirit of learning requires curiosity and exploration, enrolling someone in dialogue, sharing and owning our own feelings and reactions, and thereby irrigating the possibility that we all might just discover something new.

What a Return!

Eighteen years ago I stopped last at the Inn at Little Washington. It was already a famous, special place. Please see the podcast below, The “Inn” Place, as to the many aspects that make the town and Inn so distinctively captivating.

I’ve been married just over seventeen years, and this is one place my wife and I had never visited as a couple. My birthday was looming and we decided to experience it anew, together.

The culinary finesse of Patrick O’Connell, a true innovator, beggars description. Thirty two years of operating the Inn and the experience still takes your breath away.

The first picture you see is the extraordinary kitchen, custom designed in France, based on the dairy room of Windsor Castle, with Gregorian chants soothing and focusing the chefs who deliver such a virtuoso performance each night.

The second picture is us, with a glass of superb rose champagne and a bit of whimsy, truffled popcorn to accompany it in the stunning lounge (the popcorn has truffle oil AND shaved truffles on top — talk about “finger licking good”). Simplicity and artistry in one.

The third picture is the cheese cow. The cheese selection is European in sweep and balance, delivered on this cow which even makes a mooing sound as she approaches. What a blend of elegance and humor, of Old World art and New World impertinence!

Even the dishes are more than they seem. The caviar you see in the picture seems as if it’s just Ossetra in a tin. But underneath is a silky and exquisite crab and cucumber rilette that just amazingly flatters the caviar in undreamt of ways. The subtlety isn’t compromised, and the flavors are wonderfully enhanced.

Each dish leaves you puckering your palate as it experiences both sophistication and also at least a few unusually tantalizing overtones…like the warm limoncello souffle with zesty lemon ice cream. We were there two nights and other than the menu below, I can particularly recommend other dazzling highlights like hot and cold foie gras on a single plate (a revelation!), lamb carpaccio with caesar salad ice cream, and a shockingly, decadently alluring butter pecan ice cream sandwich with warm caramel.

Taken all in, it is everything a performance should be — delivered by service personalities who show up for each “act” presciently and yet unobtrusively, contributing appropriate charm and warmth. And I was even given a lovely Boutonniere (the elegant flower in the lapel) as I entered! A lovely tradition rarely preserved today…except at bastions of civility and taste like the Inn.

This is the stuff that memories are truly made on!

Passion comes first, then vision, then devoted execution…success follows, and is almost then incidental. Having chatted with Patrick O’Connel I found he had perused my website and Blog, knew who was inhouse, his team had recommendations in hand for us to enjoy the environs, and he was clearly determined we’d be back well before another eighteen years!

We will…much sooner.

Care that much and I can pretty much guarantee you’ll more than make it in whatever you choose to go for.


A Tin of Sin: Ossetra Caviar with a Crab and Cucumber Rillette with Gatinois, Grand Cru, Ay, Brut, Champagne, 2002

A Quartet of Island Creek Oyster Slurpies

Lightly Scrambled Local Farm Eggs with Creme Fraiche, Wild Morels and Asparagus in a Crystal Egg with Bodegas Escoda-Sanahuja, Conca de Barbera, Els Bassots, Catalunya, Spain 2006

Pecan-Crusted Soft Shell Crab Tempura with Italian Mustard Fruit and Marinated Cabbage Slaw with Jermann, Pinot Grigio, Venezia Giulia, Friuli, Italy 2006

Pan Seared Four Story Hill Farm’s Peking Duck Breast on Red Wine Risotto with Caramelized Endive and Foie Gras “Croutons” with Thierry Allemand, Cornas, Rhone,  France 2002 and La Grange Meritage, Virginia 2007

Strawberry Basil Bubble Tea

Limoncello Souffle with Lemon Ice Cream with Le Mandolare, Recioto di Soave Classico, Le Schiavette, Veneto, Italy 2005

BONUS: Iced Birthday Cake with Dark Chocoloate and Pistachio

Through New York….

I entertained the Million Dollar Club and Mentor Hall of Fame Members in New York last week, and here is a snapshot summary of our dining:

Day One: The private dining room of Gilt, at The Palace (our headquarters). A beautifully designed, ornate room with a single central table for 14 overlooking St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the courtyard of the hotel. A carefully selected menu with a Montrechet and Turley Zinfandel to accompany.

Day Two: Petrossian, pre-theater (the infectious “In the Heights”), staring with caviar for the table in a private room beneath the restaurant. 

Day Three: Buddakan, downtown, at a long, secluded table, with 16 courses shared, requiring a Hess and a Gerwerstiminer (forgive my spelling, I just drink the stuff). A beautiful interior featuring a long stairway into the restaurant below and the largest common table I’ve ever seen.

Day Four: The incredible Valbella, in the meatpacking district, in the wine room, with soft shell crabs, angel hair pasta, and a trip into an immaculate kitchen where several of my guests cooked the desserts under the supervision of a chef playing encouraging music! A very high-end Amarone did the trick here.

Every restaurant was crowded, huge energy, but we were in our own space. I felt like a Japanese horror movie of the 50s, eating my way through town.