I love everybody

DSC00712 I guess this would qualify as a business lesson from rock: Don’t speak critically of celebrities if you’re talking to a stranger.

I was in Shanghai years ago giving a talk when a management consultant—who heard of the book I was writing about rock bands—asked me what I thought of a certain Detroit-based rock singer from the mid-60s. Without thinking, I said something dismissive like, “He and his band were ok. Nothing particularly original.” Then I found out that this consultant once played keyboard with the band.

It reminded me of the old Southwest Airlines ad: “Want to get away?”

Of course I tried my best back-and-fill maneuvers, commenting on the things I liked about the singer and band, but it was too little too late.

I suppose the larger lesson is: don’t speak ill of anyone (or any business) if you’re talking to someone you don’t know.

I have friends who say, “Speak your mind and let others deal with it.” That may be fine in your personal life, but in the business world it can be a "career limiting" practice. Of course I occasionally (hourly?) violate the rule, but I’m learning.

I actually committed a worse blunder hours before I humiliated that consultant. I had just finished up a seminar for an international sales force of a German-based logistics company. I was told they all spoke English well. Not true, as it turned out. Half of them missed what I was saying (and were too polite to tell me), and I had no clue until afterwards. I had flown 11 hours to deliver an incomprehensible workshop—and then insulted a consultant. I was on a roll.

But there was some good news. (Relentless optimist that I am, I always look for the positive.) The food poisoning I got in the Shanghai airport on my way home made me forget about all of it.

Ok, here’s the updated lesson: don’t speak ill of another unless your audience can’t understand what the hell you’re talking about.

Here’s a better one: say something effusively positive about everybody. When asked your opinion about someone, always reply, “What an unbelievable talent! Amazing. I can't say enough about him [her].”

It worked for a popular New York TV talk show host, Joe Franklin. In the 1980s I use to call him up regularly to see if he'd interview me on his show. He’d always say, “I’ve GOT to get you on. I love your work. I can't say enough about it. It's amazing. Really. I mean that. I have all your books. I don't know how you do it. You have a unique gift. Call me back next month.” Actually I hadn't written anything then—and he seemed to always forget my name—but I always appreciated his obvious sincerity and his keen eye for talent. And I enjoyed our phone conversations—month after month after month. (He eventually had me on his show after I wore him down with my calls.)

So my new resolution is to appreciate everyone. In the words of Lyle Lovett, “I love everybody.”

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  1. was the artist you dissed the guy who sang about blue dresses? that dude could wail. who cares how original he was? did ever make it onto the franklin show?

    1. Yeah, it was Mitch Ryder. I’ve since watched some videos of him and it’s obvious to me now that he was pretty good, with a tight band. He did some hot medleys like “Devil With a Blue Dress/Good Golly Miss Molly/Ginny Ginny” which were unusual for the time. So I take it all back—but of course I have no credibility now that I love everybody.

      I finally got on Joe Franklin’s show. I think I wore him out with my phone calls. (That’s another business lesson.) Joe had a big following in NY in his day. I don’t remember a thing about the interview itself but I have it on Betamax somewhere in my archives. (Betamax: even more business lessons around THAT one, eh?) The interview took place during my campaign run.

  2. I still try not to announce my dismal opinion of all those fools until I know which fool I happen to be talking to that particular moment.

    Also working on not considering everyone else fools. Easier, since I realized that "smart" is not the right metric for the value others add to my life.

    Enthusiasm, manners, grace, kindness — I can find something good to say about anyone now that I'm looking for the right qualities.

    1. “'Smart' is not the right metric for the value others add to my life." Hey, that's good. I think I'll steal it.

  3. Hey John!!
    Yesh, one should always tread lightly when dissin' celebs or other musicians to those unknown to them, they could be their friends, co-workers, etc. I find it best to listen and compliment, even if its someone whose style or genre you don't really like.
    Have a great day!!

    1. Karen, the low mein must have been clouding my thinking at the time. He only had one big hit, but he was an exciting performer. And I love everybody.

  4. John, I get the fun and tongue in cheek of your essay and the wise words. But, I just gotta say that you were the one humiliated, not the consultant. He set you up! Asking someone to give an opinion of one's veiled self is really bad form. Personally, I'm glad you were honest; he got what he asked for. Yea, I know, not good business form. Just sayin'.

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