Posted on June 18, 2013 by Keith
Every once in a while I find something in the world of science that teaches me something about business. Such was the case the other day as I read an article about cheetahs in the N.Y. Times. No, this isn’t going to be some clever pun about cheetahs never winning (sorry) but about how many businesses can learn something from the cheetah’s hunting tactics.
(Photo credit: fatedsnowfox)
As the article said:
Anyone who has watched a cheetah run down an antelope knows that these cats are impressively fast. But it turns out that speed is not the secret to their prodigious hunting skills: a novel study of how cheetahs chase prey in the wild shows that it is their agility — their skill at leaping sideways, changing directions abruptly and slowing down quickly — that gives those antelope such bad odds.
Cheetahs don’t actually go very fast when they’re hunting,” said Alan M. Wilson, a professor at the Royal Veterinary College at the University of London who studied cheetahs in Botswana and published a paper about them on Wednesday in the journal Nature. “The hunt is much more about maneuvering, about acceleration, about ducking and diving to capture the prey.”
How many times have you read something urging businesses to “fail fast?” I think that’s a misnomer – it’s not about failing; it’s about learning and having the cheetah-like agility to change direction. Just as cheetahs don’t go full-out fast when hunting (they’re capable of running 65 MPH – they might hunt at 35 MPH), maybe those of us in business need to learn to slow down a tad so we can turn. I think it’s also about being able to see the landscape more clearly as you’re moving more slowly. As you know if you’ve ever looked sideways out of a car going 60, things are pretty blurry when you’re moving fast.
There’s an expression in racing – slow down to go fast. I like that a lot better than “haste makes waste.” Given the pace of change, it’s important to have the capability to run like the cheetah. It’s equally important to know when that speed is something to sacrifice in order to have a successful hunt. You agree?
Filed under: Consulting, Helpful Hints | Tagged: business, business thinking, Cheetah, life lessons, management, managing, Strategic management | 1 Comment »
Posted on June 17, 2013 by Keith
I was had a chat over the weekend with a friend who can speak music. I don’t mean “sing” and that’s not some sort of weird linguistic screw up in my writing. Let me explain what I mean and why it’s important to you and your business.
(Photo credit: Robert Snache – Spirithands.net)
Think about many of the laughable marketing materials you’ve seen over the years. Generally they fail for a few reasons, one of which is an inability to speak the language of the target audience. I remember when I was younger laughing at companies trying to be “hip.” I still laugh at the messages targeted at really young people when it’s the parents making the buying decision. It’s an inability to speak the language, and it’s just as bad as running English language ads in a country where the native tongue is something else. Of course, there are the classic attempts to speak the native language and failing miserably (the Chevy Nova being marketed in Mexico with a name that translates to “doesn’t go” isn’t great for a car and is my personal favorite). So what do we do?
We try to speak music. What I mean is that music is a universal language – Bach, Mozart, Miles Davis, and others speak to us all – language isn’t an impediment. Even music that is language-centric can convey a message and emotion – look at the success here of “Gangnam Style” and let me know if you need Korean to “get” the song.
That was the point of the conversation. We all need to think in more of a universal language as businesspeople. Sure, some of us are focused on specific segments, but the more “musically” we convey our message and conduct ourselves, the better our chances of success. My friend was explaining a feeling to me and didn’t use words – just a link to a song. I got it right away. It’s the sort of different thinking all of us need if we’re to break through.
And the best part is you don’t even need to buy a dictionary! Does that make sense?
Filed under: Thinking Aloud | Tagged: business thinking, Language, Marketing and Advertising, Music, Strategic management, Universal language | Leave a Comment »
Posted on June 14, 2013 by Keith
An unlikely source for our Foodie Friday Fun this week – the folks over at Freakonomics. I’m a big fan of both the books and the podcast because their whole schtick is looking at things very differently albeit from an economic point of view. Today it’s the cronut, an invention by a NYC baker which is a cross between a doughnut and a croissant. As Freakonomics reports:
Cronuts are so popular that lines form at 6 a.m. — 2 hours before the shop opens — and Ansel runs out within minutes. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet (and Craigslist) there is even a cronut black market, with unauthorized cronut scalpers charging up to $40 apiece for home delivery (a mark up of 700%). And of course there are cronut knockoffs appearing all over the world. Ansel has even trademarked the name “cronut.”
So here we have an interesting and, hopefully, common problem – you do invent a better mousetrap although once it’s out there it’s not particularly hard to duplicate. You can try to protect it via patents or trademarks but the former is costly (and the laws are changing) and the latter is hard to protect for something such as this. Why? Because it is almost a “generic” term such as Kleenex or Xerox (tissues and copying, respectively). The article has a great overview of the laws involved if you’re interested. So what can you do?
In two words, be better. Two more: be smarter. You are, after, the original, and that’s an edge – sort of like what distinguishes the official sports league websites from all the other sports sites that are out there (scores and stats are commodity content, after all). People like that – getting the original as long as the original lives up to its reputation (anyone think Hyrdox are better than Oreo’s? Seriously?). The inventor has a head start and it’s a small business. Why blow the profits on enforcing the potentially unenforceable hundreds of miles away from your base of operation? We don’t take the time often enough to think about the real value behind an argument made in principle. What fees might come in from licensing the name to a bakery in LA? What might it cost to get those fees?
I’ve never had a cronut. I might even break my general eating habits to try one next time I’m in NYC (assuming I can get one). What I won’t do – and what you shouldn’t either – is sacrifice smart business thinking over some grandiose idea. Be better, be smarter, and you’ll reap the rewards. You agree?
Filed under: food, Reality checks | Tagged: business, business thinking, Food industry, Foodie, Freakonomics, Strategic management | Leave a Comment »
Posted on June 13, 2013 by Keith
I made myself a note to write about a common business situation that can cause a lot of grief if not handled in a smart manner. Unfortunately, what prompted the note was a situation which was not handled the right way. I’m talking about conflict of interest and how appearances really do matter.
When I was in my corporate jobs from time to time I was offered “insider” pricing on some pending IPO‘s. I was also invited to serve on advisory boards. These offers came from start-up companies that were looking to do business with my employer and I was under no delusion that the offers were being extended because of my wit and charm or youthful good looks. I hesitate to use the word “bribe” but I understood that it was possible someone looking at this might think that my loyalty might be by divided – business interest vs. self-interest.
What raises this is a report on a major ad agency CEO being granted stock options in a company that is a vendor to her agency. These options might be worth as much at $3,000,000 if a planned IPO goes through. Digiday makes the exact point:
In its S-1 filing, Tremor says any conflicts of interest related to Desmond are and will continue to be avoided because she’s “recused herself from all negotiations” with the company. While it’s unlikely Desmond regularly writes media plans for SMG’s clients, the fact remains she oversees a business that spends millions of dollars with a company she has a financial interest in.
I know from personal experience that even when your boss tells you to ignore his relationships with a vendor it’s hard when you know there’s a friendship or familial relationship. When those relationships are more than personal friendships and extend into financial dealings, it’s impossible.
Appearances matter. In this age, one can assume any relationship will come out and be widely known. Any competitive vendor losing some of the agency’s business will have grounds to cry foul. Tremor (the vendor involved) will have grounds to scream if the CEO (and now board member) doesn’t live up to her fiduciary responsibilities It’s a bad, easily avoidable situation for everyone. Hopefully you’re smarter than this. Right?
Filed under: Helpful Hints, Reality checks | Tagged: business, business thinking, ethics | Leave a Comment »
Posted on June 12, 2013 by Keith
If you’ve ever played or watched tennis, one thing you know is that the players seem to approach each point with a plan.
(Photo credit: Marc Di Luzio)
To a certain extent they play the points backward – what shot do I want to set up, which positioning and speed of the serve will let me do that, and where do I want to hit it? Part of the equation involves moving the opponent around, far away from your intended target. Ideally, you can hit it just next to a sideline or the baseline depending on your plan. The nearer to the line the shot lands, the more likely it is to be a winner. There’s also an increased chance you lose the point by hitting it out.
Often when one watches high-speed Motorsports, the “high line” is the one that many drivers choose on an oval course. Generally, the racing groove nearest the wall allows the cars to go faster even if they’re travelling a slightly longer distance (think of concentric circles – low vs. high). It’s better to go faster and generally the high line is way to do that. It’s also the line closest to the wall. Hit the wall – go over the line – and you’re done.
There are similar analogies in golf (aiming for a target along a preferred line with a hazard line along the same flight path) and baseball (bunting very near a base line almost always works better for a hit than closer to the pitcher but it’s just as likely to be a strike for a foul ball). What each of the athletes involved needs to do is to develop a plan that revolves around their tolerance for risk and the availability of a reward. You might get spectacular results and you just might cross the line, crash, and burn.
Think of those athletes as you approach your business. What’s your tolerance for risk? Is the value of the reward worth going over the line? I think most great athletes hit those lines – the places where very few can put themselves consistently and win. To me, that sounds like a pretty good business plan if you can tolerate the risk. You?
Filed under: Thinking Aloud | Tagged: business, Business plan, business thinking, life lessons, Strategic management | 1 Comment »
Posted on June 7, 2013 by Keith
It’s Foodie Friday and I know you’ve been wondering where I’ve been. Sorry about the infrequent posts this week. I’ve written before about the golf outing I go on every year and I’m in Myrtle Beach with the crew celebrating our friendship and playing an awful lot of (bad) golf. We come to Myrtle for the golf and fellowship – we definitely don’t come for the food. In 19 years of visiting we’ve found a few (and only a few) decent restaurants and so we’ve taken to cooking for ourselves a lot. While our food definitely tops out at the “advanced amateur” level, it beats most of what we’d pay for here. That said, the restaurants – a mixture of national chains, Calabash seafood joints, and sports bars – don’t make it worth the effort of money we’d spend on dinner for 12.
Why I bring this up is that they seem to do a good business which raised the question in my mind of standards. We’re not food snobs – most of us enjoy simple food prepared well using high quality ingredients and we’re not looking for fancy sauces or molecular gastronomy techniques. The standard to which we hold professionals is very different (apparently) from the one most of the folks visiting here seem to have.
The business question is this. I don’t think the cooks are less skilled nor the service staff any less capable. I do think that they’re playing to the bar set by their clientele and that’s a trap for any business. We need to be focused on “best” and not on”this will get us by.” Many folks like fried seafood buffets (a specialty around here) but using old oil for frying or frozen, imported fish rather than changing the oil regularly and fresh local catch is meeting the low expectations that come either from not knowing any better (McDonald’s is fine until you taste Fatburger or In & Out) or from a business that doesn’t focus on repeat customers. Very few businesses are afforded that luxury.
Since golf is delayed by a tropical storm passing through (good planning I know), we’ll be cooking another meal here. That’s some restaurant’s loss (and given this group it’s a substantial loss). Our job in business is to make eating out at our place a more attractive proposition than staying home. The higher we set our own bars the more likely we are to do that.
Filed under: Consulting, food, Helpful Hints | Tagged: advice, business thinking, Food, golf, management, Strategic management | Leave a Comment »