One of the most basic kitchen skills is our topic this Foodie Friday: measuring. If you cook, at some point you use standard measures – cups, tablespoons and such. Even those chefs you see on TV grabbing pinches of salt know how much they’re pinching (you use your thumb and one finger, then two fingers, then three fingers and measure each result to have a sense).
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Baking, which is basically chemistry, requires very precise measuring to ensure success. Sometimes, however, something doesn’t come out the way you’d like even though you measure carefully and that’s our topic today.
If you ask 10 people to measure out a cup of flour and then weigh each result, you’ll find that there is a huge variance in the amount of flour. That can be fatal to a cake or in making pasta. One thing I find incredibly useful in my kitchen is a scale. I use it for cooking as much as I do baking (OK, I really don’t bake) and I seek out recipes where the measures are by weight and not just volume. After all, the cup of grated cheese called for in a recipe could be finely grated and weigh more or relatively coarsely grated and weigh a lot less. 100 grams, however, is always 100 grams. I find recipes that call for “1 medium onion, chopped” or “two ripe bananas” to be pretty useless since what I consider a medium onion or the size of those bananas may vary considerably from what the author had in mind.
It’s incredibly useful to have standardized measurements that are truly standard when you’re trying to get the best results. Which is, of course, the business point. One thing I spend a lot time with clients on is identifying and measuring the business in a standardized, objective manner. Putting up a new website may cause you to think it looks better but that’s not measurable. What is measurable and actionable are thing such as bounce rates, time on site, page views, and conversions. If the new site causes those metrics to improve, it’s a better website.
The same is true about other business elements. Presentations that look nice and flow well are good; presentations that result in decisions made in the presenter’s favor are excellent. ”Look and feel” is the cup of flour. Data driven decisions are flour measured on a scale. If you want success in the kitchen, get a scale. If you want it in business, find ways to take subjectivity out of the process. You with me?
You may have heard of Bitcoin.
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It’s a digital currency which, depending on your point of view, is either the greatest thing since the transistor or a giant Ponzi scheme. It was invented by someone named Satoshi Nakamoto. It’s a hugely volatile currency but is beginning to gain acceptance by merchants as a payment method for goods and services. It’s not small either: there were transactions of nearly $500 million a day at its peak. With me so far?
The weird thing about Bitcoin is that no one knew who this Nakamoto guy was. Rumors ranged from he was a young whiz kid programmer living in Japan to an “entity” that is a composite of a number of people who worked on the project. Nakamoto owns about $400 million in Bitcoin yet won’t talk on the telephone so people who work with him have never heard his voice. In fact, many people wondered if Nakamoto was his name at all since lots of folks in the Bitcoin community use pseudonyms. He (and Bitcoin) have been the subject of much discussion and analysis on tech blog and programs yet other than swapping rumors no one seemed to be checking this guy out.
Along comes Leah McGrath Goodman of Newsweek who does some good old-fashioned reporting. She found the 64 year old Nakamoto living in California very quietly. She wrote this piece about the process and the man she found at the end of the trail. It’s a great read, great journalism and, more importantly, makes our business point today.
Many businesses have “Nakamotos” – important people or facts or policies about which little is known. There is uncertainty about how they came to be or how they operate. There are a lot of rumors but very little fact-checking. That’s not smart business. This reporter’s commitment to pursuing the facts as opposed to repeating rumors or unverified “facts” resulted in solving the mystery. Frankly, it gives me a bit (pun intended) more faith in the Bitcoin system now that I understand who this fellow is.
We need to unearth the Nakamotos in business and not be deterred by the common wisdom. The truth is generally hiding in plain sight but you have to be looking in order to see it. Are you?
When was the last time you changed your mind? I don’t mean about something trivial such as what you wanted for supper but about something important. What should our business model be? For whom should I cast my vote? I also don’t mean when was the last time you made a decision. We make those all the time. It’s what happens after the decision is taken that is our topic today.
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I changed my mind about something the other day. It’s not really important to our discussion what it was, just that my view of the world moved from point A to point B. As I thought about that I realized that many people stick with their initial decisions about things all the time through thick and thin. That might not be a bad thing, especially if you made a good choice at the time. It’s a terrible thing, however, if you do so out of habit or sloth. Things change and they do so more rapidly these days than at any time in our history. If you made a decision five years ago some of what you took as fact when you did so probably is less right now. Markets change. Information changes. Technology gets invented. Stuff happens! If you make any investments you probably have that mindset. Why doesn’t it extend to your business life (I’m ignoring politics here but…)?
A road you’ve driven down for years can suddenly have construction or a bridge out. You have to alter your route or fly off the bridge. Pretty obvious, right (I know – I’m a master of that!)? Yet that thinking doesn’t apply to other aspects of many people’s lives. Changing one’s mind is seen as weak or indecisive. Nothing could be further from the truth. Strong people challenge their own beliefs. They look for facts, especially ones that contradict their own opinions, and avoid confirmation bias. They keep an open mind when they go to make decisions and they test whether that decision is still valid based on changing circumstances.
My decisions aren’t etched in stone. More like footprints etched in wet sand. You can see what they are but when a strong wave comes along they might change. I might be opinionated but I also accept that I might be wrong on some things. Am I right about this?
It’s TunesDay and I gave a lot of thought to our musical choice this week. I don’t know yet (we’ll see how this comes out) if it’s a good pick but the song that has been with me most of the week comes to us via the end of the 1980′s (1989 specifically) and my second favorite band from Athens, Georgia (R.E.M. would be #1): the B52′s. Over the years this band has produced many serious pieces of ear candy but this is one of my favorites. Turns out it has something to say about business too:
This song is catchy with a great beat, the chorus stays with you, and it’s easy on the ears. That’s a tiny, obvious business point – the product needs to be appealing. That’s where the simple stuff ends.
The B52′s are a band (they’re still around, you know) that often writes songs full of multiple meanings. On the surface, “Roam” is about world travel and the freedom to pursue it without preconceptions or inhibitions. As we’ve discussed before here on the screed, we don’t appreciate in business that the journey itself is the goal, not the just the end destination much of the time. This song reminds us of that.
Then there is another layer of meaning. The sexual innuendo in this band’s music is pretty apparent and this song is no exception. The innocent song about taking extended vacations is actually a not so innocent one about stretching one’s sexual permissiveness to the limits (I’ll wait while you listen again!). So what’s the business point there?
Great products can serve multiple purposes and audiences. While Mom and Dad hear a catchy song about travel, the kids hear a song about sexual freedom. A lot of music has those multiple meanings (go listen to “Little Red Rooster” and then explain to me how it’s about a chicken). Smart business people define themselves and their brands but also leave room for their consumers to add their own meanings. Our customers do define us in many ways just as much as we do ourselves. Does that make sense?
Since Mondays are days of new beginnings (“does the work week actually ever end?” you ask), let’s begin with some thinking on starts.
Not just start-ups, since there are starts everywhere in business. A project, a deal, a meeting – they all represent new beginnings. As we start whatever those journeys may be, we need a few things. Most important, we know to have some sense of where we’re heading and how: objectives and strategies in business-speak. We need to understand that there may be detours along the way that will require us to adjust some things – maybe a delivery date, maybe tactic, maybe even the entire place to which we’re heading.
Where many businesspeople get into trouble is when they maintain a firm determination to get to wherever it was they set out disregarding the detours. That’s silly. So is the opposite – seeing all of the possibilities and refusing to firm up one’s focus. If the purpose of the enterprise or project can’t be expressed clearly and definitively, there’s a problem.
As a leader, your job is to define the mission, assemble the team to accomplish it, instill confidence, and provide whatever resources your team requires to get to the destination. If you project an attitude of determination and success, your team will as well. If you’re unclear or scared, your odds of success drop dramatically. You don’t need to have all the answers; you do need to believe that the answers are within the team’s grasp.
One of the hardest things you need to be able to do is to say “Stop the car – we’re lost.” Telling the team “that won’t work” feels like a loss since it’s an admission that something has gone wrong. Not true. ”That won’t work” can mean the situation has changed or that you’ve learned enough from what you’ve done so far to recognize adjustments are required.
The leaders and businesses that fail are the ones afraid to admit something won’t work out loud and then to adjust. Great leaders see the need and explain it to their team clearly. Which will you do?
At last it’s Foodie Friday Fun time. Today I want to contemplate pickles and pizza and how they relate to your business. I’m a fan of each of those foods although I will admit to being rather fussy about the latter. That stuff they serve in a pan in Chicago isn’t pizza. It’s good, but it’s not pizza. I’m careful when I choose to eat one – thin crust, great sauce, and whatever I choose to put on it needs to be fresh and/or of high quality. I’m less fussy about pickles although I don’t really care for sweet ones.
Since you’re already wondering about the business point it’s this. Even if you got your perfect pizza and a jar of your favorite pickles, you probably wouldn’t put the pickles on the pizza. I’m told that in some parts of the country people do but pickles are probably not the first pizza topping that comes to mind. Business is like that.
We do our best to find the best ingredients – great staff, a fabulous product or service, a superior business model – but we don’t often think about if they’ll go together. Moreover, there is a tendency that once you realize that you have pickles and pizza to panic. Maybe even to start over. I think that’s a mistake in many cases. Am I advocating a pickle pizza? No. I do think, however, we need to broaden our thinking. Pizza is basically a grilled cheese sandwich with the tomato soup in which they’re often dunked already on the sandwich. You’d eat a pickle with that, right?
We can also think about the pickle. One can pickle any vegetable pretty easily – pickling liquid is just a spiced brine, after all. Why pickled cukes? Maybe peppers – you have those on pizza all the time. Or cabbage – kimchi is a pickle and I have seen that on pizza. That’s how we need to think in business. How can I change whatever frame of reference has my business not performing optimally?
Business isn’t about looking at pickles and pizza and throwing your hands up in disgust. It’s about rethinking each piece - dough, sauce, seasoning, pickle – and finding a way to make it work. How can I make things or people or markets that just don’t seem to fit work together to make something in which the flavors mesh and everything is balanced? That’s how I see it. You?
You might have read recently about the deal between Comcast and Netflix.
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Today’s screed is not about that, but since part of the reason the deal came about is Netflix’s use of streaming bandwidth, it raised a question in my mind. If Netflix is number 1 in terms of using internet bandwidth and is not making deals with ISP’s directly to serve as their CDN‘s (content delivery network), what other companies are in a similar situation? Who are the top five contributors to internet traffic? The answer surprised me and reminded me once again of an important business point.
You probably got the next couple on the list correct: Google (which is YouTube), and Apple are numbers 2 and 3. Who’s next? Hulu? Amazon? Facebook? Good guesses since they are all major video sites and do come after number 4. Give up?
The answer is Twitch. No, that wasn’t a command. Twitch is a site that broadcasts people playing video games. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of sitting around a living room while someone plays a video game. This is just a bigger room. A MUCH bigger room. So big that Twitch recently hit one million users broadcasting each month during prime time hours with 45 million monthly unique viewers who watched, on average, 106 minutes of video a day. That means each month, viewers watch 13 billion minutes of video. With the Twitch app coming to the Xbox (it’s only been on the Playstation 4) one can expect that the number of “broadcasters” will grow and the number of people watching will as well.
There are more people watching programming on Twitch than are watching most cable networks. I’m willing to bet that the audience for this is bigger than many broadcast programs as well. How many programmers are sitting around thinking about how to take away the viewing not just from people playing video games but also from people WATCHING people play video games? That’s the business point. We can’t continue to think about our businesses in “traditional” terms. Our SWOT analysis need to be much broader and contain a lot of “out of the box” thinking. The threats are everywhere.
They call it “blindsided” for a reason!