Monthly Archives: August 2013

Cookbooks

This Foodie Friday, let’s talk about cookbooks. I have…well, a lot. Probably 50 linear feel of cookbooks – maybe more.

cookbook shelf 1

(Photo credit: chotda)

There are hundreds and they’re separated by cuisine (if you call BBQ a cuisine) – Italian here, Cajun there, vegan, baking books – dozens of classifications. On the one hand, I’m never at a loss for inspiration when I come home with a bunch of great ingredients and no clue what I’m going to do with them. On the other hand, it’s really overwhelming.  Why make one meatball recipe when there are 45 variations at your fingertips?

The odd thing is that I don’t generally cook out of these books much any more.  Oh sure, on the rare occasions when I bake something, a good cookbook is a necessity.  After all, that kind of chemistry is not something one does off the top of one’s head.  Even so, I use them to master techniques. While it’s fun to  produce a perfect copy of something tired and true out of a favorite book,most of the time I’m  turning to a familiar volume for inspiration or reassurance.  Which is really the business point as well.

There are business cookbooks.  There are volumes that outline everything from sound fiscal policy to managing employees to developing new products and services.  In  a way, I hope that this screed serves as a daily mini-volume of inspiration.  For some things  – accounting rules, for example – it’s almost like baking.  Follow the rules or you’ll end up in trouble.  In other areas, follow the business recipe any of the great sources lay out and you’ll probably do pretty well especially if you’ve got great people and products with which to work.  Greatness, however, is something that you won’t find in a cookbook.

Many of the cookbooks on the market today are dumbed down (thanks, Food Network).  Follow the recipes they contain and you’ll present relatively good, if uninspired, food.  Using the flavor profiles as the inspiration isn’t a bad idea but just as writers use a dictionary and thesaurus, a cookbook should serve as a reference volume, not as a script.  It’s the same in business.  Books can inspire and serve as an adjunct to creative thinking based on sound fundamentals..  They’re tools, not crutches, and brilliant business pole don’t get their answers in books, because the great recipes are truly one’s own.

I can’t imagine not having not having the resources my cookbooks provide.  You should read as many business books are you have time to absorb.  Then distill them into your own recipes and make something great.

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Getting Pinned

Credit card

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A friend had her pocket picked last night. Yes, I’m being literal – they got her wallet and immediately ran to a couple of stores to buy electronics which are easily turned into cash on the street. Fortunately she noticed her wallet missing not long afterwards and so was able to block the credit cards relatively soon.  Still, thousands of dollars of goods were charged – they were few in number but big in price.

As someone who used to supervise a fairly large online sports store, I’m well aware that it’s usually the merchant who bears the brunt of these fraudulent purchases.  Most of the time, the onus is on the retail outlet to verify that the card is being used by the rightful owner or the outlet will eat the cost of the goods refunded to the consumer.  Because of that, there are a lot of electronic countermeasures taken during online checkout to be sure that the card is real by both merchants and card issuers. You may even have experienced some of them while traveling, especially if you’ve gone out of the country (banks don’t like it when the card is suddenly being used overseas!).

What strikes me as odd, however, is that it’s far easier to commit fraud in the real world than it is online.  Think about your last experience charging something with a credit card.  The cashier may not have even looked at the card to see if the sex of the user matches the name on the card.  They might not have verified the signature.  Neither of those, by the way, is much of a deterrent.  Maybe you swiped the card at a gas pump which then asked for your zip code.  As in my friend’s case, if they have the entire wallet, there is probably something in there identifying the correct zip so that doesn’t work either.

Contrast that with a bank debit card.  You must have a PIN to use the card.  Forget the pin and there is no way to get cash or make a purchase.  Does anyone think it’s odd that when the bank is on the line (as with a debit card) for the money there is a fairly secure (ok, very secure except for the idiots who write the PIN on the card) check but it’s not there when someone else is liable?

It seems like a pretty simple fix and it can save billions.  Like many things in business, you shake your head and wonder why no one is taking the time to do it.  You agree?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?, Thinking Aloud

Having A Dream

Today is the 50th anniversary of the “I Have A Dream speech Dr. King gave on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  I began to write about him and my memories and then I realized I had already done so in 2009.  In reading it again, the thoughts seem appropriate to today as well so here is it once more, albeit slightly edited.

I’m old enough to remember Dr. Martin Luther King and while he didn’t light the fire of the civil rights movement in the US (I’d say Rosa Parks is that hero), he certainly brought the fire to life and tended it well until his assassination (and I remember that as well – how horrible a day it was!).

Martin Luther King, Jr.

What inspired me, a young (then) white kid was his notion of bringing a dream to reality. OK, the words and delivery were pretty inspirational too, even when you read them off a page. Yesterday the Inauguration Committee had a concert on the very place where Dr. King gave his “I Have A Dream” speech to celebrate, nearly 46 years later, a big piece of that speech coming to reality. One can’t help but wonder what Dr.King would have felt and said – he certainly should still be alive – he’d just be turning 80.

Robert Kennedy said “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”  I think that’s great business advice as well, even if George Bernard Shaw had the notion before Bobby.  Mark Twain wrote that Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

So today, I celebrate Dr. King’s dreaming of a better world and making it happen.  Tomorrow, we can watch it become real.  What are you dreaming of?  Can it be real?  Why not?  Or better – why not!!

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Take The Money And Run

TunesDay, and what better theme for a business-related post than the Steve Miller Band‘s Take The Money And Run?  Steve Miller is an interesting cat.  Unlike most rock stars, he’s always been the kind of guy you couldn’t identify in a lineup.  You can probably picture most of the other big-name artists of the 70’s and 80’s.  He might be a little harder to visualize.  The list of musicians who have come though his band over the years – Boz Scaggs being the most notable – include members of Journey, Santana, and others.  The band came out of the Bay Area music scene in the late 60’s and is still with us today.

His song about Billy Joe and Bobbie Sue is about two kids who decide to rob a house, possibly killing the owner in the process.  They evade the law and get away singing “Go on, take the money and run.”  The story is in complete contrast to the light music – let’s listen and see:

There is a business point here.  Too many businesses think as do Billy Joe and Bobbie Sue.  They’re not particularly concerned with what’s right, only with themselves.  They practice the Golden Rule: he who has the gold rules, and once they extract it from their victims, they’re gone.  That tactic worked once for these kids and it won’t work much more often for a business.  One bad customer experience can haunt a company forever (just ask United Airlines about guitars).  An American Express survey found a couple of years ago that people tell an average of nine people about good experiences, and nearly twice as many (16 people) about poor ones.

You don’t need to take the money and run as a business.  That same survey found a large majority of people (70 percent) are willing to spend an average of 13 percent more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service.  In other words, your customers will GIVE you the money if you do right by them, and they’ll keep coming back.

While it makes for a clever little tune, taking the money and running is a bad business idea.  You agree?

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The Same But Different

At the risk of alienating a few of you who are sick of golf-related posts, I want to tell you about a tournament in which I participated over the last three days. It inspired some business thinking as I reflected on it so I feel it appropriate to share with you. I guess I’ll see the rest of you tomorrow!

Golf Anyone?

(Photo credit: Amber B McN)

The tournament was one in which I was paired with another club member for three days. Each day we played golf but the format varied by round.  The first round was what’s known as a scramble – each player on the team hits, we pick the better shot, and both hit the next shot from there.  Rinse, repeat for 18 holes.  It’s a format that encourages thoughtful, aggressive play.  One partner hits a safe shot, the other can try something more difficult since there is no penalty for failure.

The next day was best ball.  Each partner plays their own ball, handicap strokes are deducted, and the better net score is written down for each hole.  This is basic golf.  While there is some strategy, it’s not much different from the regular game one plays all the time.

Finally, there was alternate shot.  In this format, both players tee off, the best drive is selected, and then the player that didn’t hit the chosen drive hits the next shot.  Players alternate shots from there until the ball is holed.  It is a tremendously difficult format in many ways, the biggest of which is that a bad shot forces your partner to fix your mistake.  There is a fair amount of strategic thinking if you hit two good drives.  Who should hit onto the green?   Who do we want putting?  Weak players are exposed and better players often feel helpless since they can’t display their skill while trying to recover from a partner’s miss.

The similarities with business are what struck me this morning.  The rules and conditions are ever-changing even while the basic game remains the same.  One must adapt or die.  You have to build your team so that you can play under any condition.   Teams that had done well in the first two formats posted horrific scores yesterday because one player was very good while the other was pretty bad.  Attention to the strategy appropriate for the situation is always critical in golf and more so given the changes to the rules each day.   Finally, one bad hole doesn’t kill your team nor does one bad day or quarter in business.  Maintaining a good positive attitude with the big picture in mind can deliver a trophy; staying mad about the bad hole (or quarter!) can keep the negative results coming.

We won our group (by a stroke!), mostly on the basis of delivering solid results each day.  That’s not a bad thing for any business to do.  Wouldn’t you agree?

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Perfect Pitch

We’ve come to the end of another week and so it’s Foodie Friday time.  Today, I’m going to make up for omitting the TunesDay post last Tuesday and combine music and food (and yes, they of course lead to business).  Perfect pitch is the ability of a person to listen to a piece of music and tell you (or play) in what key the piece is written without the benefit of hearing a reference tone – a known note to which they can compare it.  In other words, it’s much easier to know that something is written in A minor if you hear a Middle C before it plays.

Graphic details the nomenclature of the musica...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think there is perfect pitch in the kitchen as well.  There are those cooks who can recreate a dish or break it down having tasted it once.  They also seem to know what the folks eating their food want on a plate.  They can “hear”  the palates of their customers perfectly.  Food is very much like music in that when a note is even slightly off it’s noticeable and off-putting.  Great cooks keep the flavors in harmony and in tune.

In both cases, having perfect pitch assures that the harmonies are tight.  The Beach Boys or Crosby, Stills, and Nash are perfect examples.  The harmonious mix of flavors in a well-executed braise is another.  The overtones – harmonics that surround the musical or culinary compositions – resonate perfectly.  Think about Jimi Hendrix’s brilliant use of feedback (overtones, kids) and you’ll get an idea of what I mean.  Done badly, it’s just awful.  Done right, it’s a classic.

As businesspeople, most of us aren’t born with perfect pitch.  I certainly wasn’t in any of the three roles – musician, cook, or executive.  What we can do is work on having perfect relative pitch.  Once we get some sort of reference tone we can take it from there with confidence.  We need to train our ears to find that tone and then proceed keeping it in mind.  In business, that tone comes from customers.  Once we have it, we should have already trained ourselves to listen to the harmonics and make sure they’re in tune as well.

Success in music, the kitchen, and the boardroom all come from listening with a trained ear.   If we have the gift of perfect pitch, it’s an invaluable asset.  If we don’t, we need to train ourselves to mimic perfect pitch behavior based on a solid starting point and never lose sight of that reference point.  Hard to do, I know, but the rewards are worth it.   Wouldn’t you agree?

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Fading To Black?

Over the last couple of years I’ve written about cord-cutting and today I have another update of sorts.  As you know, this refers to people disconnecting from a “traditional” video provider such as a cable or satellite service and using only content delivered to the via “over-the-top” services – things that sit on top of a broadband connection.  These are services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, and others.

Here is what caught my eye:

Thirteen of largest multichannel video providers in the U.S. — about 94% of the market (94.6 million subscribers) — lost about 345,000 net additional video subscribers in 2Q 2013 — down 0.4%, according to the Durham, N.H.-based Leichtman Research Group…The top nine cable companies lost about 555,000 video subscribers in second-quarter 2013, compared to a loss of about 540,000 subscribers in the second quarter of 2012…Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for Leichtman Research Group, stated: “The multichannel video industry has leveled off, with major providers losing about 0.1% of all subscribers over the past year.”

OK, so not exactly a massive disconnect.  On the other hand, the trend is accelerating by most accounts, especially among younger people.  Now let’s think about the ongoing battle between Time Warner Cable and CBS.  No matter which side you’re on, it gives people the opportunity to seek alternatives, at least with respect to CBS and Showtime programming.  Once they figure out that much of the content is available elsewhere, cutting the cord becomes more viable.

Another anecdote.  This past weekend, I wanted to watch the Solheim Cup golf matches.  The place in which we were staying didn’t get the network carrying the matches and the live streaming via YouTube was not available in the US.  Solution?  I watched on a proxy server in Europe.  Not some sort of illegal torrent – simply a proxy server so they thought I was in France.  For those of us who are a bit more technically minded (and I think anyone under 30 fits the bill), this is a form of cord cutting behavior and negates the need for anything more that a high-speed connection to watch what I want on my own schedule.

Finally, some more research from STRATA shows that none of this is going unnoticed by the marketing community:

Focus on television advertising has hit a three-year low as the gap between TV and digital narrowed to its closest point ever, according to the most recent quarterly survey compiled by STRATA…TV advertising still remains the top advertising medium with 44% of survey respondents saying they are more interested in advertising on TV (spot TV/cable) than any other medium. While TV is still number one, this represents the lowest level of broadcast advertising interest seen in the STRATA quarterly survey in nearly three years. Gaining steadily on TV, digital is the second most popular medium at 35%…28% feel they will have a greater spend in Digital than Traditional in 1-3 years. 27% say they don’t ever anticipate a greater spend in Digital (down 45% and the lowest percentage ever).

Ad spending is a big part of the fuel that drives these businesses (and the Time Warner/CBS dispute points out the relatively new other piece – transmission fees).  If that piece shrinks, along with viewers and subscribers, the industry is in big trouble.  As the Chinese say, “interesting times”.

Your take?

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Filed under digital media, Reality checks, What's Going On