Dec. 28 2006 03:45 PM

When someone asked Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of scouting, "Be prepared for what?" Baden-Powell replied, "Why, for any old thing."


Often, we mistakenly think "be prepared" is having flashlights, candles and food on hand if the power goes out. Keeping six months salary in the bank in case of a layoff. Posting emergency contact numbers by the telephone.


But what else are you prepared for? How do you stay current with changes in the economy and technology? Who can you turn to for advice and support? What do you do when something unexpected happens? To be prepared, you must be informed, be networked and have an open mind.


Be Informed

Faced with the enormous amount of information available to us, it isn't easy to stay informed. With so many media the Web, television, newspapers and magazines it seems like information overload. And with such extreme points of view being expressed, it's difficult to tell what's the truth.


But these challenges are no excuse to give up and read only the comics and the sports page. Instead, make a conscious effort to find out what's really going on. First, choose a medium that you're comfortable with as your primary information source. If you prefer print to the screen, subscribe to a daily newspaper local or national and make it part of your routine. Supplement a newspaper with a weekly or monthly magazine for in-depth coverage. You can conduct additional research on the Web.


Most importantly, don't rely on just one source of information. There never has been and never will be objective reporting. It's human nature to bring our experiences to every story we tell, even if we're professionals. On important issues, read articles from several sources and seek out opposing points of view. Just because you don't agree with someone doesn't mean you can't learn something from what they have to say.


Be Networked

The writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, wrote, "Man is but a network of relationships and these alone matter to him." We all need the assistance of others to be successful. We need to take responsibility for building as well as maintaining a network of relationships so that others will be there for us. And we can be there for them.


To build your network, take advantage of opportunities to meet new people. If you're shy, move out of your comfort zone. In a social situation, introduce yourself to someone new. You have a good chance of being accepted. The advantages of meeting someone new far outweigh the risk that they may not like you.


But meeting people is only half the task. Relationships that aren't nurtured will fail. To establish real contact, you need to stay in touch with people. And in a fast-paced world, that's not easy.


Set aside a half hour each week to reach out to a friend or peer. And this means more than just forwarding a broadcast e-mail telling people how much they mean to you. Place a · phone call or send a letter to someone. And don't just tell them about all the great things you've done lately. Ask how they're doing, and what's new in their lives. As my friend Rod Walz says, "It's better to be interested, not interesting."


Be Open

When you have the opportunity to try something new do it. Allow yourself to experience something different from the regular routine. Of course, you should evaluate the risks before jumping in, but don't allow fear to stop you from moving forward.


Sometimes when enjoying a new experience, you may focus on the downside. Instead of enjoying the moment, you think only of the after-effects the extra calories from a fancy dessert or sore feet from a night of dancing. You may even feel guilty, just for feeling good.


By the time one reaches adulthood, we know the world can be tough. There are those in the world who only wish to do us harm, physically or emotionally. We read about corporate executives who live in luxury as their employees' retirement plans become worthless. Murder, terrorism and other crimes make headlines and fill news broadcasts.


But don't focus on the dark clouds when you can see the silver lining. There are many good things happening around us, and it's important to notice those things. I'm not suggesting that you wear rose-colored glasses. I'm asking that you also recognize the possibility for good and goodness. Don't be afraid to accept or give something positive. Don't worry that the good feeling may pass, and that something bad may happen next. Enjoy the moment.


It's these moments that renew our spirit and give us the strength to tackle life. We must build up those reserves to overcome the toughness of the world. So when someone cooks a tremendous meal for you, enjoy it. Even if it means you'll have to run an extra mile the next day.


And we must be open to being a force for good and choose to be a source of joy to others. Take the time to create those special moments for someone else. Smile when you meet someone, extend the unexpected compliment, and say "thank you." It's easy to be cruel; it takes true strength to be kind.


To be informed, networked and open requires work. You must work at these talents just as you would any other skill. Set aside the time to read, to foster relationships and enjoy life. Take steps to improve yourself. Be prepared.


Mark M. Fallon is President and CEO of the Berkshire Company. For more information visit