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Balance Is Bunk

It's 10:20 p.m. I'm working in my office at home, catching up on email. I'm buried in my Fast Company, reading "Balance Is Bunk!" (October), when at my door appears a little 3-year-old visitor. "C'mon, Daddy, isn't it time for bed?" There's no doubt that the pull of competition -- personally, within our organization, or across the globe -- is strong. But then I think of my little late-night visitor, and I have to wonder: What is it all for? I may not know how to balance, but I sure know where the priorities need to be. Time to sign off and go to bed.

Matt McElrath
Chair of human resources
Mayo Clinic Scottsdale
Scottsdale, Arizona

I read "Balance Is Bunk!" at the gym while exercising on a stationary bike. Yes, trying to have it all. And I could identify with the concept that balance can't be measured in a snapshot of time; rather, it has to be evaluated over the long run. Kind of like investing in the stock market. I've long sensed that, but never heard nor read anyone articulate it as well as Keith H. Hammonds did in his article.

That said, I took issue with a couple of points. It appears that the people you used as anecdotal evidence in your article were either single or had young children. I would suggest that seeking a sense of balance grows exponentially harder as the kids get older and especially when there are several to parent. School, church, athletic, music, and scouting activities are direct competitors to work, not to mention just trying to be there for a distraught/troubled teen who really needs a mom or dad.

I also took exception to your comment about success outside of work not being rooted in achievement. I submit that high divorce rates, teenage pregnancies, near-illiterate high school graduates, and wealthy-but-aimless kids are the result of viewing nonwork activities as matters of little consequence. You can't judge balance in an instant, nor can you judge raising a family and nurturing a spouse that way. The results, while not measurable, are certainly visible.

Charles P. Smiley
Colonel, U.S. Air Force
Division chief, Headquarters Pacific Air Forces
Hickam AFB, Hawaii

The Kids Are Alright

The title "Balance Is Bunk!" immediately grabbed my attention because I'm one of those gen-Xers tirelessly striving for balance in an increasingly complex, fast-paced, high-tech world. What I noticed was most absent from your otherwise enlightening description of the modern human in pursuit of success: health. Too often I've noticed friends my age and elder family members racing around to keep pace with the competition, or in vain worship of the almighty dollar, only to wind up getting some real bummer news from the doctor. We can advance up the corporate pyramid, or build our own assets as a business owner, but at what cost?

Sean James Kennedy
Entrepreneur
Trailblazing Ventures Inc.
Williamsville, New York

I am a 26-year-old marketing executive with a new baby. I enjoy what I do immensely and love the people I work with, but the most important question to me is whether people in my life know they are loved. My daughter, my wife, my family, my church, and my friends are all individually more important to me than work. The best way to show that to them is by spending time whenever possible. As a culture, we are letting our jobs dictate the pace of our lives until it becomes the norm. Life is too precious to assume that you'll be more available the next decade.

Phil Lapp
Product strategist
Company name withheld
Chester, Virginia

Balance? Not Bunk

There is a perfect balance between career and home: Leave your work at work, and leave your personal life at home. You just told my boss -- who passed out your article to all the managers here -- that his employees need to work more and that single parents will never do in managerial positions because of time constraints. Thanks.

Stacy Wiggins
Rutherford, California

I love Fast Company for its ever-challenging premises. This time, though, I disagree with "Balance Is Bunk!". First, I disagree with the article's definition of balance. I don't think it is as simple as saying 50% home, 50% work. We live in a very complex knowledge-driven economy, and as such, we must intertwine lifelong learning, family, faith, exercise, community, etc. Balance depends on aligning our experiences and activities with our value set. That means balancing office hours with learning hours, family hours, community hours, and the rest, all of which essentially give us our life. When we get out of balance, we are spending too much time on activities we do not value.

I also despise the whole fear argument that if Westerners do not start working more hours, then we will be overtaken by a non-Westerner who is willing to burn the midnight oil toiling 100 hours a week simply to make a few additional widgets. Just because my counterpart works 100 hours a week and I work 50 does not mean he is creating any more value. We could do worse as a culture than setting that example for the rest of the world.

Nathan Rice
Director, interactive development
Banner Health
Phoenix, Arizona

Progressive Insurance: Progressive or Not?

I was encouraged to see that Progressive Insurance was one of the companies featured as a Customers First winner (October). Most carriers are too conservative, not willing to take chances, not willing to empower employees, or foster a culture where employees feel valuable and part of the process. As a manager working in the insurance industry, I can honestly say that Progressive is the exception.

Richard Conde
Team leader
Company name withheld
San Antonio, Texas

I manage an auto-body-repair business, and from my perspective, the policies of Progressive Insurance ("Putting Customers First") really aren't customer friendly at all. Its only reason for writing an estimate at an accident scene is to control the claim immediately. Second, the Concierge program is Progressive's way to control costs for the repair. The vehicle owners have no contact with the repair shop. They don't even know who is going to repair their vehicle and how they'll do it. Progressive picks out a few shops in the area, and these shops compete for the jobs that are parked at the claims center. The shops work off the Progressive estimate and are graded on supplement requests and making the claims adjuster's life easier. My problem with the whole Progressive process is that the consumer has no choice at all.

Robert W. Grimes
General manager
Smeltz Auto Body Inc.
Monroeville, Pennsylvania

To Sir, With Love

What surprised me in the Richard Branson article ("The Gonzo Way of Branding," October) was how the experts you interviewed for the story missed the point. While they are correct in stating that a brand has to stand for something unique, they missed that the Virgin brand stands for getting it right, not settling for second best, and working hard to give its customers what they want -- even though it might make some missteps along the way. If it keeps doing that, Virgin will be successful in whatever category it chooses to compete.

Dave Dolak
Vineyard manager
BrandTrellis.com
Charlottesville, Virginia

I just finished reading "The Gonzo Way of Branding," and Sir Richard Branson's story is truly inspiring for me as a 26-year-old entrepreneur. I have zero business background or education, but from what I've experienced, formal education does a great job of zapping every ounce of creativity out of its students until there's only structure and rigidity left. I enjoy breaking all the rules. I wonder why the "experts" and "gurus" criticizing Branson's style of business aren't billionaires themselves.

Adam Dudley
Vice president and partner
Gray Morrison & Associates LLC
Winter Park, Florida

The Pro-Am Economy

Pro-Amateurs ("The Amateur Revolution," October) will create an economic system that is the perfect embodiment of "think globally, act locally." As the professionals price themselves out of the market, both by simple iconoclasm and by the inability of the market to afford them (witness offshoring), the entire dynamic of the economy will change. Geographic specificity will replace multinational conglomeration, and global networks will replace hierarchical, command-and- control structures. I, for one, can't wait.

Jacob Cooper
Cambridge, Massachusetts

The Great Escape

I really enjoyed "Ford's Escape Route" (October). I worked on the Hybrid Escape program for the last three years of its development, and your article really captured the emotion and spirit of the effort. The program changed a lot of people, myself included. I feel proud and honored to have been a part of the team.

Christopher Teslak
Power-train control systems technical specialist
Ford Motor Co.
Dearborn, Michigan

Chuck Salter's article on Ford's Escape demonstrates how same-page cooperation and perseverance between scientists and engineers can lead to great things being accomplished. But I wonder why Ford didn't utilize Mazda scientists and engineers in the vehicle's development. After all, the Mazda Tribute is closely related to the Escape. If Ford considers itself a global company with equity interests in Mazda, Jaguar, Volvo, Land Rover, and Aston Martin, one would think R&D and engineering talent from these auto manufacturers would also assist in developing such a complex vehicle as this.

Joseph Panozzo
Researcher
Infotrack
Chicago, Illinois

Chuck Salter responds: Ford did use Volvo's hybrid research in the early stages of the program following the Volvo acquisition.

The Man Behind the Curtain

I just wanted to write to let you know how much I enjoyed Jennifer Reingold's story on Michael Sheehan ("The Man Behind the Curtain," October). It was an inspirational story in terms of how he has overcome his own personal challenges. It also included a lot of valuable tips for those of us in communications. I passed it along to some of the other folks here because I thought it would be the subject of a good professional-development session.

Judith Navoy
Vice president
Brodeur Worldwide
Boston, Massachusetts

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