TunesDay, and this week it’s one of my favorite artists, John Mellencamp. Starting his career as John Cougar, a name he hated, he’s a member of the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame (2008) who has written some of the most American rock songs ever. Today we’re going to take a business point from one of my favorites – “Rain On The Scarecrow”. First – a listen:
As a founder of FarmAid, this has to be one of his most personally important songs. It’s the dark cousin of his song “Pink Houses“. Where does the land for all those houses come? From the destruction of the family farm. But the point I want to make today is buried in the middle of the song:
Called my old friend Schepman up to auction off the land
He said John it’s just my job and I hope you understand
Hey calling it your job ol’ hoss sure don’t make it right
But if you want me to I’ll say a prayer for your soul tonight
There are so many things I see these days where I wonder about what human beings are making the business decisions involved and, more importantly, how they live with themselves for having done so. ”It’s just business” is a lousy excuse. That’s the “blood on the scarecrow.” I know we don’t do politics here, but have a think about how the “profits over people” mentality has made this country and our world a little less human.
It’s impossible to serve our customers when we’re totally focused on the bottom like. No, Schepman, I don’t understand. Customers – and the people who work to serve them – aren’t numbers on a balance sheet. Cutting staff or reducing their pay to improve profits hurts you because there are fewer (happy) staff to support customer issues. It may be investors who make the decisions but it’s customers who pay the bills in a well-run operation. Springsteen wrote in the similar-sounding “Cover Me” that
This whole world is out there just trying to score
I’ve seen enough I don’t want to see any more
Maybe it’s not our economy or our businesses that are in trouble but our priorities?
This is the title song from an album about the fading of the American dream in the face of corporate greed. That trend has only become worse in the almost 30 years since the album was released (1985). I may be too much of an optimist but I believe that can be changed. As with everything, it’s people and not faceless legal entities called corporations that are doing this. People can undo this too. What say you?
I love it when some company makes my life a little easier and provides the fodder for a post here on the screed. This time it was a car dealer here in town that provided that for us today.
You callin’ me stupid?
If you’ll look over at the graphic you’ll see what was in my email yesterday. This was just the graphic part of the email – there was quite a bit of copy that dug the hole a little deeper. It read:
Drop by our dealership any time during our regular service hours, even without an appointment, and we’ll adjust your vehicle’s clock for you — free of charge. While you’re here, make sure your vehicle weathered the winter and is ready for warm-weather excursions, with an optional multi-point inspection (please call for availability). Don’t waste any more time; visit our dealership and let us help you prepare for the days ahead. We look forward to serving you!
In other words, you’re too dumb to know how to change the clock on the car we sold you. Let’s put aside the fact that the real purpose of bringing you in is that “multi-point inspection” which may or may not be free. If you’re going to reach out to your customer base, shouldn’t the basis of that offer be something of real value to the customer? Maybe the email should have been instructions on how to change the clock over to daylight savings with an offer to do it for the customer if they’ll bring the car in? That is providing value – this is an obvious ploy to get people to the service department. Giving the instructions lets the customer solve the problem (to the extent there really is a problem) in a matter of a few minutes. This way means the customer needs to take the time to go to the dealer and wait for a service person – a longer process. The first solution helps the customer; the second is designed to help you.
If we’re going to be helpful to our customers, we should do so in a way that’s customer focused. My immediate response here is that they think I’m stupid and calling customers stupid is…well…dumb! Of course, these guys are pretty dumb themselves. I sold the car they want me to bring in (back to them so they’re very aware) years ago. They’ve obviously not updated their customer mailing list into “past” and “current” owners in quite some time (I sold the car seven years ago). Who’s calling whom stupid now?
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).
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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?