July 2011

ITS A HIT!Our first Executive Education Seminar was extraordinary! It turned out to be a business and life-changing experience – a super “think tank,” as one of the participants put it. Here are the exact words of one of the attendees – a financial services professional from North Carolina: “I just spent a week in Montana hiking Glacier National Park: I finished the week with a three-day leadership challenge at the Business School at the University of Montana. While I thought the highlight of my trip would be Glacier National Park, the conference actually upstaged my time there. Glacier National Park was beautiful and amazing, but I took away insights from the conference that were life changing. I came away with insights on managing change, loss, conflict and growth that broke down the barriers of previous thinking and freed me from some of the traditional ‘prisons’ that I had created over my lifetime. The roundtable discussions with other business people facilitated by the Shechtman’s proved to be invaluable.” As a result of this kind of feedback, we’re doing it again; sooner rather than later. The next Seminar will be September 16 – 18. It will be held in Montana, again, but this time, in our neck of the woods – in Kalispell (thirty miles west of Glacier National Park). We will be using the Park for our Saturday afternoon “Montana Experience.” Put the dates in your appropriate electronic gizmos. We’ll have the Seminar website updated and ready for your registration, very soon. Now, for the newsletter –Business Tips “The Lost Art of Connecting” It’s become clear to me, these days, that we’ve lost the art of connecting – both in business and in our personal lives. What I mean by “connecting,” is the ability to listen to other people’s feelings, understand their importance to them, and create a direct and impactful link, that shows that you care about them; not simply their problems. Connecting is the art of getting beyond task management and problem resolution, to the establishment of a relationship, quickly and deeply. I’ve had two experiences lately that reinforced my belief that connecting has gone out of style. The first involved a hotel stay at a Midwestern property where I was doing some presentations. I had encountered a couple of problems during my stay, and had indicated so on the electronic evaluation sent to me. My remarks had obviously been passed on to the hotel assistant manager, since I received an email asking me to call her, to discuss my troubled experience. I called her; she answered; and there was silence on the line (after I had introduced myself and told her that I was calling in response to her email about my survey responses). She said nothing to connect with me, or segue off of her inquiry or my remarks. I had to literally lead the conversation, or it would have not gone anywhere. Her responses to the problems I had encountered (keys that didn’t work, and my room vibrating for five or ten minutes) were without emotion, and mechanical at best. I had to volunteer the explanations I was given, at the time, and she responded with a tepid apology and a certificate for a free night. She had no particular response to the hotel’s dryer shaking rooms all the way up to the third floor, or to the supposed dynamiting at a local quarry, about a half mile from the hotel (the engineer’s explanation). We could just as easily been talking about the absence of a newspaper at my room door in the morning. It was clear that the only goal she had was to end the conversation, “solve the problem,” and get rid of me. She could have empathized with how weird it must have felt to have the whole room vibrating (the TV almost hopped off of its stand); or how frustrating it must have been to check into the hotel at midnight, schlep all my stuff up to my room, and be standing in the hallway not being able to get in. She did neither. She had no interest in my feelings, or in salvaging a relationship that was bruised and battered. The second interaction involved a staff person at the fitness center I use. I went to the office of the center to renew my membership and to cancel Arleah’s. I sat down at one of the desks and got a shallow, barely audible “hello” and then, nothing. I waited a few seconds and then, when it was apparent that the staff person wasn’t going to say anything, I told her that I was there to renew one membership and cancel the other one. She said nothing in response to my statement, and pulled out a pad of paper and started writing. I asked her if she was going to ask me any questions, like which membership I was renewing, and which one I was canceling. She didn’t like my question, got quite defensive, and the rest of our interaction was infused with a cool, awkward politeness. She never thanked me for renewing my membership, and she handled the whole interaction with the impersonalness of buying gum at a convenient store. I had the polar opposite experience at another hotel where I had a meeting scheduled with the general manager (part of a consulting project with a new client). While I was waiting, at the front desk, for the GM to come over, a young lady behind the counter, asked me what I had around my neck. (I wear a device that controls the volume and programs for my hearing aids, and links them to my cell phone. It’s hard not to notice it, although very few people ask me about it.) Her question lead to a discussion and interaction that was full of information, spontaneity, and shared feelings. In literally minutes, she had engaged me in a dialogue that felt genuine, caring, and reciprocal. What’s the difference? Curiosity and risk. No connectedness occurs without either one. The problem is that we rarely recruit for curiosity, or reward for risk. Remember, that the greatest risks we take are not financial or physical. They involve being honest, direct, and unplanned in relating to others. I was at a political fundraiser a few days ago and was introduced to a couple that had just arrived. The man was almost immediately pulled away by the candidate. I had noticed that neither the man nor the woman was wearing a wedding ring, so I asked her if they were a “couple.” She could have told me, right there and then, to buzz off and mind my own business. Instead, my question lead to a rather involved conversation about how difficult it was for middle-aged folks to have a committed relationship, without being married, given the tax implications, the social mores, family pressures, etc. The man joined us shortly, and we all had a fascinating conversation about aging, intimacy, and the changing culture we live in. As we parted, both of them said that this had been one of the most interesting conversations they had had in years, and the gentleman asked if I had a business card. When you’re developing yourself or others, the primary question to always be asking, is – “Am I willing to take the risk of truly engaging with others, and what would happen to me if I offend someone?”Political and Cultural Observations “The Debt-Ceiling Crisis: On The Cutting Edge Of Ignorance” I have no doubt that the folks in Washington will, in spite of their affinity for brinksmanship, come to a compromise agreement on raising the debt ceiling. I also have no doubt that the agreement will have nothing to do with the fundamental issues facing us, as we examine and debate the role of government in our society, and the direction that our culture should be moving in. All this talk about “fairness,” taxing the rich, and passing a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget, reminds me of a quote from Shakespeare (via William Faulkner): “. . . It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” Our country is undoubtedly at a critical point in our evolution. But what concerns me most is the gross ignorance surrounding what this crisis is really about. It is not about tax rates, raising revenue, capping spending, addressing income disparity, or redistributing wealth. It is about RISK. The United States did not build the greatest society the world has ever seen; a society that has provided the masses of people with a quality of life never seen before; by simply rewarding people for working hard. Arleah and I have been in country after country where people work as hard as you can imagine, and they remain in grinding, gut-wrenching poverty. Nor did we build this amazing society through noble, altruistic work. The Mother Theresa’s of the world may have been admirable individuals, but the people they served are still trapped in a poverty that is beyond comprehension. This country was built by rewarding and incentivizing individuals to put everything they owned, valued, and treasured, on the line; for the opportunity to better their lives, and even, rise to a level of success that they could have never, in their wildest dreams, envisioned. Our culture is rife with stories of people achieving the “American Dream;” starting with next to nothing, and creating success and wealth that legends are built on. What is not so often highlighted is the deception, chicanery, and cruel manipulation, that these risk-takers were exposed to; and which, for many, resulted in their total and abysmal failure. What we haven’t wanted to deal with, since at least the 1960’s, is that both – phenomenal success and abject failure – are equally necessary for a society of unlimited opportunity. Risk-takers can deal with financial challenges, limited resources, and difficult people. What dispirits and discourages them is pointless, politically correct, and downright stupid regulations. That is, rules and policies that, by and large, attempt to protect people from their own irresponsibility, laziness, and idiocy. These regulations not only cost risk-takers inordinate amounts of money, they stunt the very creativity that has produced the number one economy in the world. In addition, they infantilize much of the public, and cripple the ability of millions of people, to represent their own interests and act in their own behalf. The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) has a department that does nothing else but track the regulation of our society; both in terms of its economic cost, and its impact on the erosion of our culture. They put out a publication called “The 10,000 Commandments,” (the amount of regulations imposed just under Obama), and determine their cost to our economy. The cost of complying with this obscene number of regulations, under this administration, is close to a trillion dollars. Yes, a trillion dollars. Talk about throwing money down a rat-hole. The amount of government agencies that regulate the production of marketable beef is staggering, and it takes the efforts of over ten agencies to regulate beehives. If you want to watch your neighbors’ kids, on a consistent basis, you will most likely be harassed and threatened, by the “child protective” bureaucracy, into major construction work on your house to accommodate the toilet needs of phantom hordes of non-existent children. I have written before of my favorite regulatory absurdity that is showcased in my doctor’s office. It is illustrated with a sign above the patients’ toilet that reads: “We have water-saving toilets. Please flush twice.” So, I am not terribly troubled by the negotiations going on in D.C. Whatever kind of financial package they put together will not be terribly relevant to the central issue that has us stagnated, economically and culturally. Under the current regulatory environment, the people who can fire-up and fine-tune our economic engine (and create lots of jobs) are paralyzed and frozen in stride, tired of trying to predict what the next cockamamie regulation is going to be. What we need, then, is a fourth war. A citizen’s uprising against the caretakers and risk-haters. I think that a growing number of people are sufficiently fed up with being treated as helpless idiots, to stem the tide of this regulatory insanity. If there ever was a time, it strikes me as now.
Personal Notes “Aging and Musing” I recently “celebrated” my 69th birthday (“celebrated” doesn’t really capture the experience anymore) and am aware of a bunch of random feelings and thoughts: I still have no idea of how I got to this age, and don’t know where the time went. I don’t have a feeling memory of my 40’s and 50’s. I know I was there, but only in my thoughts. No clear feelings of those days. Aging is a weird phenomenon. There is no way to predict what it will be like, until you get there. The only thought I can remember, from earlier in my life, about getting as old as 60, is that everything fun and enjoyable would probably end. Not so, thank goodness. It’s funny, but I remember watching my grandparents eating, and thinking, that they probably don’t enjoy food that much, at their age. Wrong! A few days ago, Arleah and I cleared our private road up to our house ( a mile and a half long, going up a thousand feet in elevation) of hundreds of thistles. We had an unbelievable amount of moisture this year (300% of our typical snowfall) and everything was growing out of control. It’s been like living in the Amazon. Thistles six feet high and in clumps ten feet wide. I don’t know what got into us, but we were like two possessed people, working our way down the road, cutting and spraying with a vengeance. Our dogs must have thought we were crazy. We bent and stooped for about five hours, and I’ve never been so stiff and achy in my life. We clearly overdid it. Possibly to prove something to ourselves. I’m aware these days, of riding an emotional roller coaster, even more than usual. I still have a thirst for new experiences in my life, both personal and professional. I really like formal teaching again (I’m an adjunct faculty member at the School of Business Administration at the University of Montana), both in the MBA program, and the newly evolving Executive Education Seminars. I have some new and quite interesting consulting clients, and I’m getting re-involved with Montana politics, on the gubernatorial level. At the same time, my grandmother’s “darkness” and my undergraduate nihilism, sneaks up on me, and I wonder why I’m doing all this stuff, since I’m in the latter part of my life, and I’m going to die anyway. Thank goodness, those moments are not long lasting. I’m really touched these days, by my relationship with Arleah. She’s still the hottest 70 year old babe in the hemisphere, and the only one who can also carry on a conversation about archeology and quantum physics after sex. But she is, above all, my hero. No one that I’ve ever met works on herself with the diligence and persistence that she has. Her commitment to writing her book about her recovery from the death of her daughter, after all these years, has been awesome and inspiring. Above all, she is my partner in life. We share everything of importance; we live our values without exception; and we hold each other accountable for growing and learning. I cannot imagine a life any different from what we’ve built together. Morrie

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