Monthly Archives: December 2012

Most Read Posts Of The Year – 1

While I’m too lazy (or burnt) to write a few new screeds this week, as has become our tradition we’ll look back at the posts you guys read and shared the most over the past 12 months.  This first one was also one of my favorites because it’s a good example of what I’m trying to do here most days.  That is, of course, to take the things that go on around us all the time and find actionable business lessons among all the other stuff.  This was from last April 10.  Enjoy!

Suppose you have a small but very popular business. You began as a handful of people, most of whom are still with you after you kicked out a couple of uneven performers. While you’ve added some staff as the business grew, every employee is a key employee since there really aren’t any overlapping roles.

Thirty five years go by, the business grows, and while there are good years and bad, the product mix is generally well-received by customers and reviewers. In an industry where products come and go very quickly, this one endures, even though it went through a period where everyone wondering if it had lost its way.  The product focus changes with each release cycle to match the times – no one has ever called your business stagnant even though its product sector has gone through some very rough times. In fact, there is an entire secondary business of add-ons and information providers that has grown up around your business. Not a bad place to be.

One day, you learn that a key employee is sick and several months later he dies. You adjust by hiring someone who can do what he did albeit without the strong emotional bond to the team as the late employee.  A few years later, another key member – your right hand – passes away suddenly.  The team is devastated and there are real questions about  the ability of the business to continue.  The emotional toll on you is palpable and the business community wonders if you’ll retire and shut it down.

Instead, you decide to replace the man who everyone thought was irreplaceable. You let customers know that it will be different, and while you will make best efforts to minimize the differences, you are up front about it being different and don’t try to pretend as if nothing had changed.  You bring on more employees to reinforce some of the differences, creating a transformed product in the process.  You release new product – one developed primarily with an outside team for a fresh perspective.  It’s very well received, and breathes life into the older products, and customers continue to buy it in droves.  The business remains true to its core values and it’s obvious that the old and new employees are on the same page thanks to excellent leadership.

It’s really a textbook case on managing business transformation in difficult times.  I was privileged to witness it myself last night.  Ladies and gentlemen, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

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Seven More Fishes

I started to write our Foodie Friday post and got part way through it when I realized that I had written it before.  Seriously – I had written a nearly identical post a few years ago.  Maybe it’s a sign that it’s the end of the year and the creativity tank is almost empty.  Fortunately, the holidays always fill it back up.

Thanks Saveur!

In any event, this is the last new post before Christmas (I’ll post Monday but I’ll probably begin the “Best Of The Year” series) and I wanted to touch upon the Christmas Eve tradition of the Seven Fishes.  The earlier post is below – after reading it again I thought I got it right the first time (funny how that saves you work later on!).  To those of you celebrating, Merry Christmas.  Whether we observe the day or not, we should enjoy its culinary gift!  To wit:

Our Foodie Friday theme today is La Vigilia, the Christmas Eve tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes.  Now what, you might ask, does a nice Jewish boy know about such things?  Well, having spent a great deal of my youth around my best friend’s Italian mother and grandmother while they cooked, I know quite a bit.  I know that they started to prepare this feast several days in advance, as they put salt cod into water to hydrate it (there was a running battle about using milk to do that).  I know that they spent many hours over the subsequent days preparing all manner of seafood – fried, broiled, and baked.  And I know that it all was mind-blowingly good.

There’s one thing I didn’t know, and still don’t, about the Feast:  what does it represent?  Everyone knows it came as a southern Italian tradition and there are lots of theories about the number 7.  But apparently no one knows for sure and that’s the business point to end the week.

All too often in business, we do things because that’s the way they’ve always been done.  When we ask why or what does it mean, there is much head-scratching and often there’s uncertainty but both are generally followed with a shrug of the shoulders and a supposition that someone higher up wanted it that way.  I used to tell new employees that they possessed a rare commodity: fresh eyes with which to examine all of our business traditions.  They were not supposed to take “because that’s how we’ve always done it” as a satisfactory answer if something didn’t make sense to them.  Sometimes as we dug down into the “why” we figured out a better “how.”

I’m not sure it’s important that we understand the “why” of La Vigilia, but that’s an exception.  In business, everything changes pretty rapidly and the traditional ways may no longer work.  Questioning the reasons why we do certain things is a critical item on the path to success and we should encourage it.

And now, it’s off to go find some fresh fish.  Buon Natale!

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Who Is Working For Whom?

Have you ever been in a clothing store where the customers were busy stitching together the goods?  Maybe there is a guy in the corner screening designs on to T-shirts or a grandmother doing embroidery on a scarf.  How about a restaurant where the customers cook the food (OK – I have been to one of those – many Korean places let you grill at the table but still…)?

I ask this because it’s something pretty common in the digital world.  After all, what would Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Quora, and dozens of other sites be without the user-generated content that makes them worth a visit?  Sure, each of those sites provides the platform and the tools with which to interact, but if no one ever posted anything what would they be?

What’s triggering this are a couple of things.  First, the Instagram fracas I discussed yesterday.  Second, Twitter is deigning to let users download all of their tweets as if Twitter had anything at all to do with the content itself.  It got me thinking of all the crappy students who got paired up with smart kids in school and got an “A” because the smart kid did all the work and wouldn’t let the team fail.  The least one can do is to have an appreciation of and respect for the horse that got you here.  The platform is a “C” student – it’s along for the ride in most cases.  The importance of the content to those sending and receiving it doesn’t change based on the platform although the platform can help get it into a form that makes it more digestible.

When any of us who run businesses start minimizing the contributions our customers make to us, we’re in trouble.  In the case of many digital businesses, where the customers literally make the stuff on which the business depends, we should be thinking of as many ways to reward those folks and how to say “thank you” each and every day.  Screwing around with privacy or your data use policy or being obnoxious about using your customers as currency (even though we all know we’re being sold) is a sure way to blow up the business.  You with me?

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