Make Your Environment Cheezy

A little science this Foodie Friday. I swear this doesn’t come from some satire site either. A group of Swiss scientists conducted a little experiment with music and cheese. The idea was to find out if exposing cheese to round-the-clock music could give it more flavor. They took 9 wheels of Emmenthal cheese and put them in individual wooden crates. Then, for the next six months, each cheese was exposed to an endless, 24-hour loop of one song using a mini-transducer, which directed the sound waves directly into the cheese wheels. You with me so far?

As one report had it:

The tracks include A Tribe Called Quest’s We Got it From Here, Mozart’s The Magic Flute opera, Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, Vril’s UV, and Yello’s Monolith. Three of the other wheels were exposed to either low-, medium-, or high-frequency sound waves. One control wheel was left in silence.

Any guesses on the results? Well, amazingly, there was a noticeable difference in flavor according to the food experts who tasted them. They reported that the cheese exposed to music had a milder flavor compared to the non-musical cheese. They also found that the hip-hop cheese had a stronger aroma and stronger flavor than other samples. If you ask anyone who’s been around me whilst I’m preparing a meal, they will tell you that I often play a type of music appropriate to the cuisine being prepared: Zydeco when cooking Cajun, Salsa when cooking Mexican, etc. They think I’m crazy but now I have science to back up my thinking, right?

The business point here is that we often don’t pay enough attention to the environment we set up in our business places. While it’s become more common for people to listen to headphones while they work, there are many other factors in the environment that affect performance. Creating an environment where people are happy and motivated pays huge dividends, especially when you look at places where people are generally miserable. It’s not just good lighting and clean spaces. It’s also having an open-door policy as a manager and allowing the staff to personalize their spaces. It means bending the rules from time to time to accommodate special situations and doing a lot more listening than talking when conversing with your team.

If cheese can pick vibrations and react, you can be very sure that the people with whom you work can as well. Why not make them the kind of vibes that create the best flavor?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Music

Dunning-Kruger And You

One episode that has stayed with me for many years involved a young employee that I managed. Like most of the folks I hired, he had a lot of raw talent in the areas that you really can’t teach – excellent intellectual curiosity, a good work ethic, etc. As I saw it, my job and that of his immediate supervisor was to develop that raw talent over time.

When review time came up, he asked me when he’d get made a VP. He had been with us about 6 months and had been out of school for about 18 months. Now, most of the people who achieved VP rank were 10-15 years older than him and used those years to develop their work skills to a point that was light years past where he was. I asked him why he thought he should be made a VP and he went on about having paid his dues and that he knew as much as many of the VP’s he’d met.

He was a perfect example of something called the Dunning-Kruger effect, in which people fail to recognize their own incompetence. I see it on the golf course all the time as my playing partners will often try to hit shots that they might be able to pull off 1% of the time or they overestimate how far they actually hit the ball and come up woefully short of their target. The kid was a business example, one with which I’m sure you’re familiar.

Have you ever walked out of a meeting in which someone thought they were being brilliant while it was obvious that they really had no clue about the subject matter? The sad fact, borne out by research, is that the most incompetent individuals are the ones that are most convinced of their competence while the most competent people often underestimate their competence.  I’m a believer in knowing what you don’t know and in not assuming that just because you’re smart and very knowledgable about one subject that you can translate that into expertise in another area without doing the work to understand that area.

It’s not just stupid people who don’t know they’re stupid. Entire organizations can behave this way, believing that they can get beyond their core competency and into another business sector with equal success. Management sees that the business has a good year and deludes itself into thinking the organization is performing at peak efficiency when competitors are actually doing better and are gaining share.

We need to be on the lookout for Dunning-Kruger everywhere. For businesses, use an independent standard of measurement, hopefully, something that’s reflective of your entire industry.  As individuals, a little humility and getting outside your own bubble helps to keep your perspective. That kid didn’t make VP and in fact, ended up leaving the organization to a higher level job from which he got fired. He Dunning-Krugered himself to unemployment. I’m sure he was convinced it was due to something other than his own incompetence. You’d never make that mistake, would you?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?, Reality checks

It’s Corned Beef Time!

I’m reposting last year’s Foodie Friday post from St. Patrick’s Day. If you’re not following the calendar, Sunday marks the annual celebration of all things Irish and Corned Beef and Cabbage is certainly one of them. As you’ll read below, that’s weird because it’s about as Irish as I am. In any event, I’ve had a busy day preceded by a busy week so I’m off to do something very appropriate to the holiday: hit my local watering hole. Enjoy the weekend, enjoy the holiday, and be safe and make good choices.

It’s Foodie Friday as well as St. Patrick’s Day! Most people in the U.S. associate the holiday with food (as well as with drink). Corned beef and cabbage is generally the food we think of here, and frankly, that’s a little weird since it isn’t really Irish. As the father of two lovely Irish-Jewish daughters, however, I can feel good about it since in many ways it represents the commingling of the Irish and Jewish immigrant communities.

English: Closeup view of A lady shoving a cabb...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After all, corned beef, and beef generally, wasn’t something widely available in Ireland, and you can’t go into a Jewish deli without seeing corned beef on the menu. One explanation is this:

Many maintain that the dish is simply not Irish at all. The close proximity of the Irish and Jewish communities at the time is said to be largely responsible for the popularity of corned beef among the Irish immigrants. According to thekitchenproject.com, when the Irish arrived in America, they couldn’t find a bacon joint like they had in Ireland so they gravitated toward the Jewish corned beef, which was very similar in texture.

I was shopping for my brisket to corn as well as a cabbage yesterday. Despite a huge swath of produce department space having been allocated to cabbages, there wasn’t single cabbage in stock due to a great sale price (I ended up paying 3x the price in the organic department!). The briskets were plentiful although they were packed in those cryovac bags that make it difficult to see through the printed graphics in order to assess the quality of the product.

What’s the business point for you today? First, if you’re running a sale or know that demand will be high due to a holiday, it’s imperative that you have product on hand. Nothing gets a consumer angrier than the lack of product availability. In this case, the store hadn’t procured enough stock to replenish the shelves, even though the item is evergreen, meaning it will still have its regular level of sale after the holiday. Next, make it easy for customers to examine the product. How often do you see an open box in a store where someone has tried to investigate the actual product as opposed to what’s displayed on the box? Frankly, I think one reason online shopping hasn’t completely obliterated the in-store experience is exactly that. People want to see, feel, and smell the product before taking it home. We need to help them! Finally, ask yourself how you can create an experience around the brand or product. It’s easy on a holiday such as this, but marketing needs a push the other 364 days too!

To my Irish friends and relatives, enjoy the day. I’m going to get my brisket going shortly, and I’m going to put bacon in the cabbage to make it a bit more Irish. After all, isn’t authenticity a key marketing asset as well?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

Getting It Done At Home

I had my last job in corporate America in 2007. What that means is that for the last 11+ years I’ve been working on my own out of a home office. I suspect, given the way the business world has changed over the last decade, that many of you are in the same situation. Maybe you elected to spend a few bucks on a desk at some co-working space and while that’s fine, this post isn’t really for you. It’s for those of us who absolutely could stay in our PJ’s propped up in bed with a laptop all day and no one would be any the wiser.

I will admit that I’ve done exactly that. I’ll also tell you that it really isn’t the optimal thing to do if you want to be productive. I have a few other thoughts about getting it done while working at home and I thought I’d share them with you today. What brought this on is that I’ve had many candidates looking at home-based businesses and I usually try at some point to tell them how different it is to work from home.

First, the one thing you MUST do is to pick up the telephone. While email is a great way to communicate about some things, you miss the nuance that human interaction brings. Moreover, it’s fun! Human interaction is great! When I started doing franchise consulting and found myself on the phone almost constantly, I realized how much I missed that. Very early in my career (long before email) I spent hours cold calling and setting up meetings. Phone time decreased over the years until when I was working at home it was barely part of what I did. Don’t be a monk: use the phone.

Take breaks. I believe in the 20-20-20 rule for your eyes (look away from the screen at something 20 feet away every 20 minutes) but it’s also important that you mirror the brief interruptions you usually get working in a corporate office. Be sure you eat (not over your keyboard!).  Take a walk. Spend an hour hitting golf balls. Do something not work-related so you don’t drive yourself crazy, which it’s easy to do when there isn’t anyone else around to distract you.

Don’t feel guilty when you run errands or do other things that you couldn’t do if you were still in the corporate world. There are many downsides to working on your own and at home. The freedom to use your time as you see fit is one of them.

Finally, if you have space, really set up a dedicated room as an office. Besides providing a tax deduction, it’s always made me feel like the professional that I am. I’m writing this in my home office which has the same sort of stuff on the wall as I had in my corporate offices.  It feels like I’m at work. Having the dedicated space also reminds me that I’m off work when I walk into the rest of the house and I should behave that way.

How do you get it done at home? Any tips of your own that you’d like to share?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

How Dumb Do You Think We Are?

We’ve all been lied to. It always feels bad when we discover the lie and we often get angry at the liar. A co-worker of mine had an expression that comes to mind all the time: “Forgive and remember.” It’s fine to “forget” in that holding a grudge is self-defeating. It’s better to remember (without anger if possible) so that you’re a lot warier the next time you hear something from that person.

It’s in that context that I shook my head when I read about Facebook pivoting to privacy. Now if there is one company that has violated user privacy more than Facebook I’m unaware of it. Frankly, I thought it was something that The Onion had written, but no, it was a blog post from Mark Zuckerberg.

“I believe the future of communication will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services where people can be confident what they say to each other stays secure and their messages and content won’t stick around forever”

Seriously? This is the same guy who is literally at this minute lobbying against privacy laws everywhere. This is the same company that encouraged you to give them your telephone number to use for two-factor authentication (yay privacy) and then used the phone number to target ads. Oh, and there’s no way to delete or disable that.  Then there was that time that they used an app to steal everything you did on your phone. Suckers…

Fool you once? Um, no. Back in 2010, there was a piece in the NY Times that outlined just how hard it was to make your data private on Facebook. To truly opt out of sharing all your personal information, you had to click through more than 50 privacy buttons, and then choose between more than 170 total options. There were some options that you couldn’t even opt out of at all. How dumb does he think we are?

No business can afford to lie constantly to its customers, especially one that is almost completely reliant on those customers for every bit of content. If and when users wake up, as many under 21 users of the platform have, we won’t need regulatory intervention to “fix” Facebook or any other company that lies constantly. It will just die, buried in its own untruthfulness. We’re not that dumb after all, are we?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks

Overdoing It

It’s Foodie Friday and I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve all lost our collective minds, at least with respect to some of the food trends I see out there. Everywhere one looks you see food that seems to echo one of the favorite phrases from my youth:

Anything worth doing is worth overdoing!

Let me give you a few examples. The dozens of flavors of Oreos, ranging from candy corn to Swedish fish to watermelon, and hot chicken wing and wasabi Oreos have hit stores in China. Buffalo Fried Cornish Hens. Kimchi Salsa. Jerk Chicken Pizza. All the different flavors of chips (because who doesn’t want a chip that tastes like a lobster roll?), and of course, Strawberry Lemonade Beer. Now I’ll admit that I actually liked a cucumber beer that I had last summer but at some point, don’t we need to draw a line? It’s bad enough that most people drink “coffee” that’s flavored with everything from hazelnuts to birthday cake. It may be a lovely morning pick me up but it’s not coffee.

This kind of thinking is how we got some of the great food fails. Bacon soda. Coca-Cola Blak. Orbitz Drink. It’s instructional no matter what business you’re in. Let’s say you make a pain-relieving cream and you say to yourself “Hey! We can fix the pain in other ways!” Voila! Ben-Gay Aspirin. Maybe you own the women’s magazine market and think “hmm…women eat yogurt, maybe while they’re reading. Let’s make yogurt!” Cosmopolitan Yogurt was off the shelves in 18 months. Coors Spring Water? No thanks. Each is an example of overdoing something that not only is worth doing but is something you’re doing quite well. Right up until you decided to do more.

There are some things you can’t overdo. Great customer service. Being grateful to customers, vendors, partners, and staff. Taking most good products and blurring that goodness with too many things that too few people want isn’t helping. Don’t overdo it!

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints

Servers And Small Customers

I wasted some money the other day. I thought I was being smart and using my knowledge of social media marketing to promote my franchise consulting business. I was looking to acquire some new candidates who are ready to change their lives so I created an audience of folks whose demography matched that of most of the candidates with whom I’ve been working. What I found weren’t leads but I did get a great deal of information and I want to share some of that with you today.

One truism I’ve always sworn by is that you can tell someone’s character by how they treat people who can do absolutely nothing for them. Servers, for example. Oh sure, they can bring you your order but they’re not going to help your career along. Receptionists are another example. When you treat people who you perceive to be in a subordinate role like dirt, it shows an awful lot about your personality and character.

The same holds true for how big companies treat little customers. The big guys get all the attention because they have all the dough. What’s forgotten is that the big guys were once little guys, either in sum or in their spending with you. To cultivate budget growth you need to treat every customer as if they are the most valuable.

So why the rant? My lead campaign generated several leads from Facebook. The cost per lead was substantially better than I usually have to pay to generate a lead. The problem is that when I went to download the information from Facebook I received a file that contained digital garbage. I don’t mean bad leads; I mean unreadable digital garbage. I sent a note to support to ask if I’d done something wrong. Crickets. A few days later, I sent another note which is still unanswered, not even with an autoreply letting me know that my message was received. I’m assuming that if I were one of their big customers (the Russian Internet Agency maybe?) I’d have a dedicated rep who would get back to me immediately. As a self-serve slob, I’m pretty much on my own.

Any business can learn from this. Sure, millions of small customers can’t each have a personal rep, but you’re a tech platform, dammit. Put some of those technical smarts to work and figure out how to support the little guys. If you’re not a tech platform, find one that can help you and use the reporting it will offer to make sure you’re treating the little guys the same. After all, you’re nice to the person who serves you your meal, aren’t you?

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Filed under digital media, Helpful Hints, Huh?