Alan Weiss's The Uncomfortable Truth®

Alan Weiss

Alan Weiss's The Uncomfortable Truth® is a weekly broadcast from “The Rock Star of Consulting,” Alan Weiss, who holds forth with his best (and often most contrarian) ideas about society, culture, business, and personal growth. His 60+ books in 12 languages, and his travels to, and work in, 50 countries contribute to a fascinating and often belief-challenging 20 minutes that might just change your next 20 years. read less
Society & CultureSociety & Culture

Episodes

Two Guys
Jul 3 2024
Two Guys
I recorded and wrote this prior to the presidential debate. When I couldn’t publish it before the debates, I was going to abandon it. But in view of what occurred, I’m publishing the recording and show notes now. In the upcoming debates, no notes will be allowed, and the moderators can mute the microphones. Moderators have had undue influence on past debates, becoming the inappropriate centers of attention. Think Meghan Kelly. It will be even easier now. One of the candidates is 78, and the other is 81. One has no vice presidential nominee as yet, and the other appears to be continuing with Kamala Harris, who was chosen originally solely because of her identity and her ability to gather votes to beat Trump. She has failed at every major initiative given to her since then. Trump often digresses into blather. Biden often falls victim to confabulation, where things he’s invented to fill memory losses become real to him. He was not at the top of his law school class, despite his claims that he was, but was 74th of 85 students and failed one course, having been found guilty of plagiarism. Trump degenerates into crazed diversions, at one point talking about being electrocuted when his teleprompter failed. This is an age of threat from China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran. Are these two guys (and Kamala Harris) able to handle the simultaneous anti-US maneuvers of these leaders of this evil axis? Neither of these two guys would be acceptable as the CEO of a major organization, not to the search firms, not to the governing committees, not to the boards. Is this the best we can do in this great country? These two guys? Of course not.
The Reunion
Jun 13 2024
The Reunion
Our 60th High School Reunion On the way to the reunion We’re on Amtrak on our way to our 60th high school reunion: Emerson High School, Union City, NJ. It was then and is now the most densely populated city in the country. Emerson is now a middle school, but back then it was one of two full-fledged high schools with all sports, and dances and typical teenage angst. We had about 200+ in the class. About 30 of the original class will be at the reunion, along with spouses and assorted hangers-on. Two of the teachers with whom we’re still in touch were able to be at the 55th, but not this one. They’re both in their 90s and one is quite active on Facebook. He’s told me he reads my books. I do have one lifelong friend, Robert Borghi, whom I’ve known since kindergarten. He used to put a nickel a week away to someday buy a helicopter and a ranch. He does, today, have a pilot’s license. At the last reunion, a woman walked up to talk to me as if we had been speaking continually. I could not place her. As I leaned to the right to see her name tag without appearing to stare at her breast, I was stunned to see she had been my steady girlfriend in the 6th and 7th grades. At past reunions, held every five years, some people unfortunately passed away in the weeks before the events. I’m just hoping no one passes away AT this event! In other words, we need the same numbers departing as arriving. After the reunion We left with the same number that arrived. Unfortunately, Robert Borghi couldn’t make it because he’s having surgery in the next few days. Our table did win the school trivia contest, but I was shocked when one of the questions was, “Who coached the girls’ bowling team?” We had a girls’ bowling team??!! Some people were in remarkably good shape. Some were not. Some were seriously disabled. Out of a class of slightly over 200 we had 31 people (plus partners) all between 77 and 79. The average life expectancy in the US is 78 for men and 80 for women, but once you reach those ages you get another 7-9 years! One man whom I knew casually in school approached me to tell me he reads my books and newsletters and wanted to know what I was going to do next. We end by singing the alma mater. These things are always bittersweet.
The Breath of Others
May 30 2024
The Breath of Others
We claim we don’t like elites, but we eagerly follow every ridiculous and pompous movement of the British Royals. (They’re now upset about a Nigerian trip that Harry and Megan took where they were treated too much like a state visit!) We belong to air clubs, hotel clubs. We have Amex green, gold, platinum, and black cards. Hertz has a platinum service. On our recent trip to LA, we arrived and departed though Amex suites. Once upon a time, elite offerings were only open to invited, important guests. Then a court case opened them to all, with the wonderful result that we can watch people clip their toenails in a Delta lounge. (No, I am not making that up. Nor am I making up the woman who changed a filthy diaper on a first class United seat.) So since lawyers of course sued to open private clubs intended for the top guests, people struggle for other elite experiences. This happens at beach resorts, in school, on the job, and when traveling. (There’s a rigid “culture” among people who commute by train every day, and apparently on the few times I’m on such a train I break every tribal law.) Why is this? It’s because we struggle for independence. As much as we collect ourselves for mutual protection, influence, and sustenance, we need vacations to get away, special treatment to separate us out, offers to elevate our status. As much as we hear “no man is an island” or “it takes a village” or “we’re really pack animals” I wonder. It seems at times, not infrequently, that others’ breath is poisonous to us.
A Conversation with Doug Durand
May 23 2024
A Conversation with Doug Durand
I met Doug at Merck where he worked as a sales executive and I was an external consultant. Some years later, he called me from his current pharma company and asked my advice about an ethical issue he was seeing. About five years later, he was presented with a huge (listen to find out how much) “whistleblowers award” for turning the dangerous practices in for the government to investigate and eliminate. We talk here about the courage and risks of being a whistleblower (two such people formerly employed by Boeing have since died, one by suicide, one by unknown causes, and Doug faced physical threats) and why they are needed more than ever today. We discuss whether drug prices are reasonable in light of the investment in creating them and, if efficacious, obtaining FDA approval. The results might surprise you. We also discuss the high mortality diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and cancer, and whether too much is spent on “cure” and treatment at the expense of investment in prevention. The issue of extending life, but with quality, is raised, as is the need for certain types of surgery being abandoned. Also examined is the ironic serendipity of drug creation, aside from huge, targeted investment, which we’ve seen result in weight loss, hair growth, and the eradication of African River Blindness. Sometimes, even with drugs, it’s better to be lucky than good. And don’t miss our focus on opioids and the absence of whistleblowers among people who should have acted but didn’t throughout this crisis.
Family Business
May 16 2024
Family Business
The old apothegm is that the first generation starts it, the second expands it, and the third ruins it. Probably not so true any more. It’s not about a mandatory spendthrift or wasteful generation. It’s more about hunger. I don’t know about you, but I grew up poor, and when I was fired as president of a consulting firm, we had relatively little money in the bank and two small kids with private schools and a wedding ahead of them. We also had elderly parents who needed our support. So I did whatever was necessary to make money. I would charge $25 for resume reviews for people looking for work. I charged $750 to speak, though I often did it for free to get in front of potential clients. That hunger subsided when I had “made it,” but it has never really left. I don’t work hard, but I work very smart. I pursued success and create tougher goals and higher standards for myself. I think the metaphorical third generation I mentioned may just be bored. They don’t want to expand the business further, the don’t want to start another, and they have no hunger. Their education and living standard have been taken care of. You can’t make your kids poor. The second generation might have experienced a period of your hunger, but not the grandchildren. They assume you were always well off. They think that’s what life provides. My son would respond, when I was making a case about “the old days,” that “I know, Dad, you were barefoot, wrote on a shovel with charcoal, and walked to school three miles in the snow.” “Yeah,” I said, “and it was uphill in both directions.”
Generosity
May 9 2024
Generosity
The best leaders and most successful people I’ve met also exemplify generosity. This is not an accident. “Generosity” means “giving or sharing,” and being liberal in so doing. It isn’t primarily about money, but it is about credit, recognition, time, listening, coaching, supporting, and so forth. If it’s authentic, then it’s consistent, not situational. I’ve always thought the award winners who get on stage and thank 20 people are many times those whom the people being thanked have thought of as horrible, selfish people with whom to work. Generosity is often about hard work and sacrifice, not merely “giving.” Writing a check is easy, serving at a soup kitchen is harder, chairing a nonprofit board that’s in trouble is harder still. Caitlin Clark led basketball statistics in scoring, but she was also very highly rated in assists. Mentioning someone laudably in public (and on social media) is generous, as is not mentioning negatives. Refraining from complaining, especially over minor issues is generous. We often call it “giving the benefit of the doubt.” Developing people is generous. Maya Angelou has noted that “we train animals, but we should educate people.” We shouldn’t assume people are somehow “damaged” and require remedial work (which most self-help books do). We shouldn’t project our personal shortcomings to others, as if they must be universal to salve our egos (this is called “projecting”). Being vulnerable and honest is generous. To admit our mistakes and fears to others is a generous act, encouraging them to feel safe doing so, and enabling them to try to help us and that we will willingly listen. We should also overlook minor flaws that may discomfort us but are trivial in the large scheme of things. I had a coaching client who told me he was annoyed when one of his customers chewed on the ice from a drink. I asked if this were somehow dysfunctional. He said it was just irksome. I suggested he just live with it and forget it. But, ungenerously, he told the client that the habit was irritating. The customer then told him to “get lost.” Refraining from holding a grudge or harboring resentment is generous, as is never taking things personally. (I didn’t make a sale at this time in this place to this person. That doesn’t mean the person doesn’t like me or that I’m not worthy.) And remember Joseph Epstein’s famous observation: “The true measure of generosity is not how much one gives but how much, after giving, one has left over.” It’s a fundamental concept or philosophy about life.
How I'd Change Education
Apr 18 2024
How I'd Change Education
Primary and secondary 1 End the “warehousing” of children • Chronology is silly and hundreds of years old • Socialization is important, but not at this cost • Move kids as they learn • Measure learning by outcomes: application, tests, etc. 2. Stop defaulting to college educations • Prepare for a range of employment opportunities • I sat next to too many duds in college • Teach life skills: civics, account management, do-it-yourself repairs (remember shop and home economics) • Growing tendency to hire competence and not credentials 3. End the teachers’ unions control of schools • Introduce carrots and sticks for teachers • The Rubber Room in New York City • Albert Shanker’s quote • Randi Weingarten’s $600,000 • The customers are the parents and kids, not teachers • Make the job rewarding and also demanding • Recreate school “open houses” • End the mainstreaming of behavioral problems • End the inclusion on non-English speakers • My experience with Tourette’s Syndrome • Teachers have lowest grade point averages and attend the worst academic schools • Former president of URI: People with poor finances and/or grades go to inexpensive and mediocre schools • Get rid of failed progressive nonsense like “new math” • Allow for school choice of all kinds with vouchers 4. Change school financing • The affluent/tax/attraction/more tax trap • Pool money within the state for equal distribution • Create true equal opportunity with equivalent resources, quality, teaching across the state 5. Enforce discipline • Assistant principle might go to jail for stopping a female, black student from heading for a fight, she claimed he physically abused her in doing so. She had threatened the fight. • Mandate school officers. Anyone who says that children are fearful of uniforms and police should understand they’d be more fearful of being beaten up or shot at. 6. Apply common sense and avoid political correctness and the woke • Teachers may not involve themselves with personal, sexual, gender, and similar issues without involving parents, including names kids use, how they dress, and how they want to be addressed. • Teachers’ personal politics, gender beliefs, and religious beliefs are not permitted in the classroom.
Conspiracies
Apr 11 2024
Conspiracies
Not just about the government or the banks or big Pharma, but even sports when YOUR team loses! “The refs were crooked, it was rigged.” 9/11 was an “inside” job, and we never landed on the moon. Key elements: belief in a pattern underlying the event; provocative and deliberate plans; coalitions or groups are involved, even disparate ones; there is a clear and present danger; secrecy that is hard to justify or believe by non-conspirators. Groups blamed are typical targets: wealthy, politicians, business leaders (especially bankers), historically stigmatized minorities, such as Jews or Roma. Conspiracists defy pragmatism and evidence, e.g., “Princess Diana actually killer herself or faked her death.” The threat of lack of control forces insecure people to find cause and effect outside of their control that explains their fate. (THEY are out to get me/us.) Paranoia is a key element, involving perceived victimization, social isolation, and the refusal to admit that others succeed by their talents and hard work. Paranoia generally starts individually but then lends itself to “groupthink.” Conspiracy thinking, or the tendency to believe in conspiracy theories, shares several characteristics with paranoia. Both involve ideas that harmful outcomes can be attributed to malevolent agents rather than to more benign or non-agentive causes. Other similarities in concept are notable, for example, both paranoia and conspiracy thinking represent suspicions that can be hard to falsify and may concern events or theories that later emerge to be true, for example claims about pandemic demands by the government that, scientifically, were incorrect and ineffective. In an increasingly volatile age, without confirmations of power and control, people default to these “settings.” This will become worse. Perhaps paranoid to begin with, see this as a conspiracy, though I doubt that Trump ever did.
Skechers
Mar 28 2024
Skechers
Do you need shoes that you can put on without touching them, without bending down, without even sitting down? Barring those whose illnesses or conditions prohibit bending, just how lazy are the rest of us becoming? Skechers sells some shoes which have a patented device near the top of the heel that allows you to slip into them without manipulating the shoe: no shoehorn, no wiggling, no close proximity at all. (Of course, you have to have the mental capacity to know your toes go in first.) I can understand this if you’re, say, 90. But they’re advertising this for everyone. How lazy are we becoming? Our luggage has wheels these days. People can gamble on their smart phone apps and talk into their wrists. We may think that garage door openers and TVs “must” be remote, but why fireplaces? You no longer build a satisfying fire any more, you program one. How lazy are we becoming? Vacuum cleaners now self-clean, and lawn mowers self-mow. Cars can self-park. Gym trainers assist their customers in lifting weights. Siri keeps interrupting intelligent thought to see if she can be of further annoyance. People try to cut turkeys with electric knives, which is like using a blowtorch to light up a cigar. How lazy are we becoming? One of my cars “hands” my seatbelt to me, and the car manuals are six hundred pages because of all the automatic features. Meanwhile, I haven’t used cruise control, which has been on every one of my cars, in 25 years. And now we have those Japanese toilets….