Monthly Archives: March 2012

Cooking Tips For Business

We’ll end the week with our usual food-centric piece.  Today, I want to direct you to a piece by Food Network Magazinethe 100 Greatest Cooking Tips Of All Time.  While the list is far from exhaustive, it’s pretty good.  Many of them revolve around a few themes and many of those themes have application in business.

The first one comes from Marcus Samuelsson:

If you’re cooking for someone important — whether it’s your boss or a date — never try a new recipe and a new ingredient at the same time.

Well, I haven’t cooked for a date in a very long time, but I have presented to new clients, and I definitely see the application of this principle.  When it’s important to put your best foot forward, it’s not the time to experiment.  Stick to what you know works – there will be curve-balls aplenty even under the best conditions.  Your job is to reduce them to a manageable number.

Next is something I was taught to do many years ago by an Italian grandmother and comes from Chef Issac Becker:

When making meatballs or meatloaf, you need to know how the mixture tastes before you cook it. Make a little patty and fry it in a pan like a mini hamburger. Then you can taste it and adjust the seasoning.

At the risk of singing one of my familiar refrains, this is all about feedback.  Analytics.  Measurement.  Tasting as you go (to paraphrase Chef Anne Burrell‘s tip) is how you keep a business on track.  If something is off, you need to adjust the seasoning (or the plan) and you can’t know that unless you taste.  Otherwise, the dish (and the deal) can turn out inedible.

Finally, the value of planning from Chef John Besh:

Take the time to actually read recipes through before you begin.

and Chef Gabrielle Hamilton

Organize yourself. Write a prep list and break that list down into what may seem like ridiculously small parcels, like “grate cheese” and “grind pepper” and “pull out plates.” You will see that a “simple meal” actually has more than 40 steps. If even 10 of those steps require 10 minutes each and another 10 of those steps take 5 minutes each, you’re going to need two and a half hours of prep time. (And that doesn’t include phone calls, bathroom breaks and changing the radio station!) Write down the steps and then cross them off.

One of my great culinary joys is getting a four course meal on the table for 20 people at exactly the time the Mrs. informs me dinner is to be served to the guests.  That can’t happen without thoughtful and careful planning.  Then again, that project is much simpler than many of the business tasks we all face.  I’m surprised at how little planning goes into many of the most complex tasks.  Failure to think a project through to completion, to break it down into the component steps and to plan accordingly, is one of the great causes of failure.  It leads to cost overruns and shortages of time.

What’s your favorite cooking tip?  How does it apply to work outside of the kitchen?

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If you managed to get through middle school math (I’m hopeful that means most of you), you’re familiar with the term “Lowest Common Denominator.” In math it’s a way to combine unlike fractions by finding a common ground. In business, it’s a way to screw yourself up. You see, there’s another nonmathematic use of LCD and it refers to the lowest or least sophisticated level of something, and that’s the subject of today’s screed.

As anyone who has worked in broadcasting will tell you, the ratings system is a sort of shared myth. Nielsen puts out numbers, TV executives believe them and TV buyers believe the TV executives. Of course, it says right on the front of the ratings book that they’re only accurate up to a point, and like any number based on a sample the results are really a range. That range can be pretty wide as the number of folks in the sample who did something declines (so the published rating for American Idol is probably closer to the truth than the rating for a show ranked 125).

Which is why I find this disturbing:

TubeMogul is bringing Online Campaign Ratings to its RTB video ad platform. The agreement between TubeMogul and Nielsen means advertisers and agency trading desks can cross-reference GRPs for audience age and gender demographics with impressions and clicks to get a fuller sense of a campaign’s performance.

Simple announcement which a number of folks covered.  Except, of course, when one reads further:

While TubeMogul is able to relay metrics like impressions and clicks in real-time, Nielsen’s GRP numbers are only available daily, as with their broadcast GRP metrics. Also TubeMogul’s advertisers will have to log in to the Nielsen dashboard separately to view GRP numbers alongside metrics on TubeMogul’s platform.

In other words, we’re bringing down digital’s great system of non-sampled measurement to the LCD of TV.  That’s bad business in my book.  I realize that the advertising ecosystem isn’t quite able yet to deal with a completely different set of metrics, especially metrics presented in real-time, but the further we dumb down the standards the more likely it is that those lower standards become the norm instead of temporary fixes.

Digital measurement isn’t perfect.  Faulty implementations, disreputable folks cheating via bots and other ways, and an overwhleming amount of data we don’t often present well are issues.  But even with these and other faults the reporting and accuracy is better than what we used in TV, which any TV or agency person will tell you is pretty much a fantasy if you get them talking over a drink.

We can do better!

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Social TV

Back in the early days of the online thing (it wasn’t even really the Internet then), I was working for a major television network (OK, ABC if you need to know).  As part of my job began to involve engaging people with online content, several higher-ups expressed concern that we might be pulling people away from the broadcast.  When I moved on to another large network, that thinking persisted.  We couldn’t or shouldn’t be doing anything that would pull viewers away from their TV screens.  It wasn’t a shock to me that the “exchanging analog dollars for digital dimes” analogy came from a TV person.

American family watching TV (cropped)

American family watching TV (cropped) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fast forward 18 years.  While TV viewing is more segmented than ever, overall viewing has continued to increase, as has use of digital devices to engage viewers.  In fact, there is now evidence that the very things that were feared to be pulling viewers away from TV are, in fact, deeply engaging them in the show.  According to a new study from iModerate Research Technologies, social media can increase the time viewers spend watching TV.  58% of those consumers who share stuff on social networks related to what they are watching at least 10 times a week, report watching more live TV. The respondents in this study consistently remarked that it makes TV more fun.

What’s really interesting is that there is evidence that the social activity has viewers adding shows to their TV activities specifically because of social conversations.  Turns out that it’s free promotion, not competition, I guess.  With time spent viewing continually on the rise, social interaction seems to be adding a dimension that can compensate for the times when “there’s 57 channels and nothing on.”

iModerate also found three types of consumers who regularly engage in social TV experiences. They are:

  • The Sports Nut”: 25-54 year-old males who use social platforms to comment on games, debate, talk trash, etc.
  • “The Extrovert”: 18-34 year-old males who have a lot of real-life and online friends.
  • “The Girlfriend”: 25-44 year-old females who primarily use social TV to discuss the dramas and reality TV shows that are important to them, which is akin to a “girls’ night out” experience, according to the study.

Another example of how sometimes our worst business fears are, in fact, our best friends!

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Out Of My Head

I saw my niece in a production of Sondheim‘s “Into The Woods” over the weekend.  It’s the same show my eldest daughter was in 10 years ago.  Both productions were terrific but different enough to show how one can take the same general concept and insert your own vision to transform it.

Into the Woods

Into the Woods (Image via

One thing wasn’t different, however: the music.  The score is wonderful and contains, in my opinion, some of Sondheim’s best work, and the plot is a mash-up of several fairy tales such as Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack and the Beanstalk.

So here I am well after I’ve left the theater and I can’t get the songs out of my head.  My musical tastes are definitely NOT Broadway score focused and yet these are the only tunes popping into my brain several days later.  Which of course is the point.

We should all be trying to create things that consumers and business partners can’t get out of their heads, whether it’s a game that people can’t stop playing, a show that creates massive sharing and grows organically, or a book that readers can’t put down.  We’ve all seen lines for new movies but what about the lines where people are going back to see the film several times?  How many people are on their third or fourth iPhone?  Lots of people post about their obsessions – it’s practically a default category on Pinterest.  How much is what you’ve created there?

The Electric Light Orchestra had a hit with the song “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head“.  Keep that in your head as you work today – like Sondheim, create something that burrows into people’s brains!

Midnight on the water
I saw the ocean’s daughter
Walking on a wave’s chicane she came
Staring as she called my name
And I can’t get it out of my head
No, I can’t get it out of my head…

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Why Hiring A Star Might Be A Short-term Decision

Think about the best coaches, the ones who will go to their respective Halls Of Fame based on their coaching achievements.  Now think about players who are in their sport’s Hall.  The lists don’t often cross – in basketball there are only three: John Wooden, Bill Sharman, and Lenny Wilkens.  In golf, I can’t think of any Hall of Famers who were both great players and renowned teachers.  In the NFL, maybe Dick LeBeau will get there as a defensive innovator – he’s already in as a player – but that’s about it.  You can look up baseball and other sports – it’s not a long list anywhere.

The fact is that the best players are usually not the best coaches.  Most of the great coaches were average players during that aspect of their careers.  I played a lot of sports and was in the “average” category.  From my own experience I know that I had to pay a lot more attention to technique and strategy that the guys who had way more skill than I did, and I suspect that’s true (at a much higher level) with all of the great coaches.  As a mediocre golfer, I got better by practice (although I still am pretty bad) but also by learning about swing flaws, and now drive my friends nuts by analyzing every swing I make while they just swing and play pretty well.  Which of course got me thinking about how this is applicable to business.

The best salespeople I know were also notorious for not paying attention to “technique.”  They are just gifted in sales and lousy in things like administration and filing expense reports accurately and on time.  Great salespeople often make horrible sales managers because they can’t explain how to do what they do.  Ask an artist to explain the creative process and you get a very different answer from an academic.  The latter will talk about psychology and biology; the former about inspiration.

When someone know what it’s like not to have natural ability – the gift of superior skills – they work harder to become proficient.  They take nothing for granted.  So the question is this:  is it better to hire a naturally gifted star, knowing that they will at some point become frustrated in a larger role (the transition to management) or do we hire the person of above average skill who has worked hard just to compete?


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More Doh!

A couple of Foodie Fridays ago, I wrote about a Cooking LIght piece that discussed some of the more common mistakes we amateur cooks make.  Since it’s Friday again (funny how that happens every week or so), I thought I’d present a few more lessons from the kitchen and remind us how what goes on in the kitchen is a lot like what goes on in business.

Today’s first mistake comes from the world of baking.  Unlike cooking, baking is very precise, mostly because it’s chemistry.  The problems come when untrained bakers begin to make substitutions in a baked good.  You know – something sounds too fattening (I hear that’s possible) so you change the butter to oil or applesauce.  Maybe you use a sugar substitute instead of some or all of the sugar.  That’s a noble idea but it disrupts the basic chemistry of the cake and it often comes out badly.  Business is a lot like that.  Some supervisors think that all their workers are interchangeable and ignore the basic chemistry of a good team.  Unfortunately, that kind of thinking often results in a less than optimal result.

Error number two is not understanding the difference between boiling and simmering.  Boiling something happens at a much higher heat than does simmering it gently.  While boiling rather than simmering can cook a dish more rapidly, the result is rarely edible.  Boiling a stew instead of simmering it can result in tough meat, for example.  In business, the equivalent error is yelling and screaming at someone – turning the heat way up – instead of applying a gentle heat that might take a bit longer to work but yields better results.

Finally, many home cooks don’t use thermometers to check the temperature of meat.  They rely on timing as stated in a recipe or some calculation like 6 minutes per pound instead of checking to see if the meat has come to a proper temperature.  This can result in a product that’s over- or under-cooked.  I know of people who don’t rely in measuring devices such as analytics to run their businesses and that’s the equivalent mistake.  There’s no way to tell how a business is doing – digital or otherwise – without using impartial measurements of some sort.  Just as a beautifully browned roast may not be cooked, a business that looks nice on the outside may not be fit for consumption once you dig in.

Enjoy the weekend!

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Me Or Your Own Eyes?

You’ve probably heard some version of the 18th century joke about a wife who, caught by her husband in bed with a lover, denies the obvious and adds: ‘Whom do you believe, your eyes or my words?’ The Marx Brothers used a variant of it in Duck Soup when Chico, dressed up as Groucho, asks “who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?” Obviously people believed their own eyes since the quote is usually attributed to Groucho.

Groucho Marx

Groucho Marx (Image via

I thought of that quote as I was trying to explain a report to someone. They kept telling me the same story about what was going on in their business even though the data was saying something quite different.  Who was I going to believe: them or my own eyes?  Or my own data?

One of the big trends these days is a discussion of “big data.”  In a nutshell, almost everything we do these days in business generates data, and most of the managers I know are drowning in the stuff.  Despite that, most of the companies in which these managers work are not what I’d call a data-driven culture.  In fact, they suffer from the same issue mentioned above.  The will often fit the data to the story instead of letting the data help them solve the questions raided in the telling.  McKinsey stated in one of their reports that:

By 2018, the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions.

What’s needed is change management with a goal of developing a data-driven culture. Maybe that’s too strong – how about a culture in which data isn’t subordinated to the role of being used selectively to reinforce or justify bad decision-making?  At some point, people have to learn to trust their own eyes – the data they see – and not the stories they hear.  That’s what I think – you?

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