Monthly Archives: November 2013

On Time And Hot

While today isn’t Foodie Friday, it is a major food day here at the world headquarters.

Thanksgiving at the Trolls

(Photo credit: martha_chapa95)

Cooking in earnest for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving feast begins.  With that in mind, I want to revisit a post I did almost five years ago that talks about how one gets a massive project – dinner for 20+ – completed on time with all dishes hot.  As I said at the time,  Thanksgiving‘s biggest challenge is time.

“Time?” you’re thinking, “that’s the biggest challenge?”  I’m sure you could put together a list of this week’s challenges which would contain items such as where to stash all the coats, how to fit 25 people around a table made for 12, and how to step over Uncle Elmer to get to the bathroom without waking him up.  However, as the conductor of the Thanksgiving orchestra around old Rancho Deluxe here, let me assure you that the primary challenge of the day is delivering all 39 items on the menu to the table at the same time, appropriately hot or cold as required.

The key to the entire day is a timed checklist.  Seriously.  I take an enormous amount of crap from everyone who sees mine each year until they realize that the meal is being served at exactly the time requested by the Mrs. which happens to coincide nicely with halftime of the football game.  This list is created by using back timing – something TV and radio producers do all the time.  Beginning at the desired end time and factoring in the availability of necessary facilities (ovens, stove burners, etc.), you work backwards and piece together the time required for each dish until you have a road map.  Anything I can knock off ahead of time (baking, prepping all the dressings, parboiling vegetables) is done up to 24 hours in advance.  It even gets down to resting time for the turkeys before carving and the time it takes for the oil to heat up in the fryer.  In fact, we started frying the turkeys in part because it frees up an oven late in the process.  This sounds like a silly bit of overkill to get the meal ready, but it prevents you from leaving the soup in the refrigerator or forgetting you were serving carrots and finding a 20lb bag the next morning.  Which is the business point as well.

Any project needs to start at the end and work backwards.  You take into account the resources you need along with the human resources to produce the final product.  You need to be honest about the time each step will take and once you’ve written each element down along with its appropriate time block you need to keep checking the list to be sure you’re on time every step of the way.  My list even has lunch and shower time scheduled so nothing is overlooked.

I’d be happy to share my list with you but it really would only help you with your dinner a bit.  The cooking facilities here are pretty damn good although we spent the money on them instead of indoor toilets (kidding).  As with every project, you have to tie your back-timed list to the list of desired outcomes, the facilities you have available to you, and your own skills, whether in the kitchen or in the office.

Make sense?

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Why Saying “Thanks” Is Good Business

Let’s say “thanks” this TunesDay, or at least consider how often it’s been said musically.  With Thanksgiving right around the corner it seems appropriate to do so as well as to think about the business point.

We begin with the weekly music video – this is one of my favorite thank you songs and it just happens to be from a guy named Keith.  It reminds us that

People say they’ll stand beside you/They swear they’ll never leave
But when the rain started falling/You know it only fell on me

We all find out who is loyal and who is not and how saying “thanks” may not even be enough to show one’s appreciation. We generally find out when times get rough, as they have for most businesses over the last few years.  The lads in Led Zepplin (“Thank You“) have a similar take, and say thanks for:

Today, my world it smiles, your hand in mine, we walk the miles/Thanks to you it will be done, for you to me are the only one.

It’s nice to make someone’s world smile, but it makes the point that we might not even realize the effect doing so has on the recipient nor the depth of the response it can bring.  Dido (“Thank You“)sort of gives thanks for the same thing:

 I want to thank you for giving me the best day of my life/Oh just to be with you is having the best day of my life

Oh sure, her significant other handed her a towel and called her during the day, but mostly this is about how having a strong bond with someone can lift them up just by doing little things and being there.  Natalie Merchant (Kind & Generous) has an even longer list:

I want to thank you/For so many gifts
You gave with love and tenderness
I want to thank you

I want to thank you/For your generosity
The love and the honesty
That you gave me

I want to thank you/Show my gratitude
My love and my respect for you
I want to thank you

There is more thanks offered in the song but it shows that when we stop to think about it, we have quite a bit for which to be thankful.  It could be as simple as letting someone be themselves (Sly & The Family Stone – “Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin“) or for being a friend (Andrew Gold and also the theme to Golden Girls!) or even for music (ABBA).  Which raises the business point.

Every business has a lot for which to be thankful.  Loyal customers, hard-working employees, honest partners.  How often and in what ways do we say “thank you?”  As the above lyrics show, a little thanks can go a long way, we might not realize the powerful effect it can have on the recipient, and this is probably a great time to spread some around, don’t you think?

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Vampire Media

Let’s begin the week with another look at the declining state of my former business, television.

iPad 2 - Home Screen

(Photo credit: William Hook)

Now you might find it odd that I feel the business is in decline given that viewing of content created for TV (both network and cable) is pretty solid in the aggregate.  I agree.  I’m not one of those folks that thinks there’s nothing good on TV.  In fact, I think there’s more really excellent programming on than maybe ever before.  The issue is that it’s spread out among hundreds of channels, each of which we consumers are paying for in some way.  Unless, of course, they’re on a pay channel such as HBO in which case only a minority of homes have a chance to see it.

But that’s not our topic.  Instead, I want to talk about vampire media and their role in all of this.  No, it’s not a tome about “True Blood” and its ilk.  Vampire media refers to iPads, other tablets, and other devices which come out at night, generally in the home.  It’s through these devices that much of what was primetime viewing has shifted from the big screen and the major content providers to the small screen and other providers.  You’ll notice I’m not saying “small providers.”  YouTube is bigger than any TV network in terms of viewership and reach.  Most importantly for our discussion today, these devices do not require a cable to deliver video, just an internet connection.  The effect?

In just a year and a half, cable television providers’ share of the video market has declines from around 52% to 47%.  In fact, Nielsen‘s estimate of TV households has declined each of the last two years, the first time I can ever remember it ever declining at all.  Sure, the business remains solid for now, but that’s due to two factors – high ad rates masking the audience declines and the subscriber fees the content distributors take in.  In my opinion, that too will change in the not too distant future.  Higher fees are coming from a smaller user base.  At some point the economics of paying for a lot of content you never consume don’t make sense.  This admittedly long piece does an excellent job of summarizing all the numbers.  You should check it out.

The holidays are here.  More tablets, Roku boxes, Chromecasts, and new video consoles, all of which permit the viewing of most of the same content available via traditional programming services will be sold and received.  The vampires are coming out.  Have they landed at your house?

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President Kennedy

Fifty years ago today I was sitting in my third grade class when a teacher came in sobbing.

John F. Kennedy

Cover of John F. Kennedy

President Kennedy had been shot and the next few days have been burned into my brain ever since.  Strangely, all of those memories are black and white, since that was the kind of television we had at the time.  In retrospect, the day and his death ended an era of hope in this country as we moved into an era of conflict and chaos.

Smarter people than I have written about JFK’s impact but I thought it might be appropriate to translate a few of his thoughts into business thinking since that’s what we do here on the screed.  As is also our custom, I’m going to avoid the politics of what he had to say as well as what others had to say about him and his administration.  First, the most famous quote from his Inaugural Address:

Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

In business terms, this is a recurring theme here.  Flip “country” to customer and I think you’ve got a solid paradigm through which you can view almost any business decision.  Next, the quote that triggered what might be his most enduring legacy:

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.

While we can debate the merits of the space program (and I wrote about that a while back), I don’t think there’s much debate about two things.  One, that program contributed to the rapid advancement of many of the technologies you’re using at this very moment to read this.  Those same technologies are driving a lot of growth in our economy and around the world.  Two, and this is the main business point, the imperative to think big thoughts.

No business can succeed by standing still.  What’s the next frontier?  How can we be better and lead?  Kennedy viewed space as a defense project which is clear when you read the address from which the quote is taken.  Dreaming big is a great defense, because the odds are your competitors are trying to as well.  As the space program has proven, the by-products of big ideas are often more valuable than accomplishing the goal itself.

Finally, Kennedy took office as a 43-year-old, following President Eisenhower who was 71 when he left.  He was the first president born in the 20th Century and projected an image of youth and excitement.  His language was forceful and filled with imagery of destiny and long-term thinking about solving problems.  That’s a great model for anyone who presents ideas which most of us do on a regular basis in business.

What happened 50 years ago today was a tragedy.  I wonder sometimes how different this country – and the world – might be had Kennedy served two terms.  While his presidency wasn’t without controversy and crisis (if you haven’t seen the movie Thirteen Days, find it and watch it!), it’s his legacy of civil rights, social programs, NASA, and the Peace Corps that stand out in my mind.  His approach to leading is a great model despite some of the personal foibles he had, and taking his approach to business issues isn’t bad either.  You agree?

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Pimento Cheese

We normally do food related posts on Fridays here on the screed but since there is something else that deserves out attention happening tomorrow I’m doing our Foodie Friday Fun post today.

Pimento cheese on Ritz crackers.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week’s topic is a food that is a staple here are Rancho Deluxe and in many homes – most of them a lot further south than here – around the country:  Pimento Cheese.  For those of you unfamiliar with it, pimento cheese is a blend of cheese and pimentos and other ingredients.  About the only thing about which most folks agree is that it has to have cheese and pimentos and that some of the cheese needs to be yellow cheddar.  Things diverge from there.

Mayonnaise?  Pickle juice? Worcestershire sauce?  Other cheeses?  Cream cheese? Cayenne pepper?  Vinegar?  Depending on one’s tastes and, more importantly, family traditions, the answer is a resounding “yes” or unwavering “no”.  Every family has its own recipe and unique prep method.  Basically, if it’s not made the way your mom or grandmother makes it, the spread is just not right.  It’s a simple food that restaurants often dress up (Abbamare infused pimento cheese with heirloom peppers – shoot me!) unnecessarily. It’s also the sort of food that demonstrates a few very basic truths about business.

First, when you’re charging people with a task, be very specific if you’re expecting a specific result.  “Make me pimento cheese” can mean very different things.  “Use this recipe and make me pimento cheese” gets you a better result.  Second, there is usually more than one way to get an excellent solution.   For those of us who didn’t grow up with a family recipe, tasting different variations on the theme got us to the cheese we enjoy today.  Keep an open mind – accept that many roads lead to Rome – and you’ll be better off.  Finally, don’t make the simple overly complex.  The differences between homemade mayo vs. jarred and imported small batch cheese in pimento cheese are silly other than to justify charging some outrageous price.  Simple is generally better, faster, and more cost-effective.

As with many things in the kitchen and in the office, different people hear the same thing in different ways.  Our job is to get everyone on the same page, working towards the same final product.  Then we get to stand back and watch people enjoy!  You with me?

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The Choice You’re Really Making

Have you ever been in a situation where you have to make a decision and have done what research you can but realize that you really don’t know enough to make a knowledgeable choice?

Jumping off the cliff at Cape Greco

(Photo credit: Paul Skeie)

For example, you might get asked by the auto mechanic if you want some work done and your knowledge of cars is limited to filling the gas tank. A doctor might give you choices about treatment options and while you might understand the plusses and minuses of each, in the back of your mind is a lingering thought that there must be some medical differences you don’t quite get.

When we’re in those situations, my thinking is that we wind up making one simple choice that’s the same in each case: do I trust the person with whom I’m dealing?  Do I trust that the mechanic isn’t lying about the need to replace a valve spring since I can’t tell a good one from a bad one?  Do I believe this dentist when he says I need to replace an old filling before it become a problem?  In those cases we’re not buying the service – we’re buying the seller.  We’re choosing to believe both that they have understood a problem you’re having and that they have the specific knowledge to solve it in the manner they’re describing.  It’s a leap of faith.

That’s a critical business point that we often forget.  When someone show up late to a meeting I trust them less.  When their materials contain typos or hyperbole, I’m less willing to leap with them.  Being successful in earning trust is a significant factor in a businesses overall success.  That trust is what permits an occasional error (think of a restaurant you frequent that’s having a bad night due to missing servers, etc.).  When your potential customers or clients or partners feel as if you have your own interest at heart and not theirs, you’re toast.

People buy the seller as much as they do the product.  The more complex the decision, the more that holds true.  What we need to do is to ask ourselves if we’re earning that trust or if we’re just pushing a product.  What’s your answer?

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Standing On The Moon

It is TunesDay and this week we’re going to have a dose of Good Ol Grateful Dead.  At the end of the 1980’s, the Dead released “Built To Last” and the song “Standing On The Moon” from the album became a standard part of their concert repertoire from then forward.  Have a listen but I’ll tell you up front that while the quality of the music is superb it’s not a great video.  I chose this performance because it’s 1989, it’s an earthquake benefit the Dead played in Oakland, and yes, that’s Clarence Clemons sitting in on sax:

Pretty, right?  And the “Such a lovely view of Heaven/ I’d rather be with you” part while we look at Jerry and Clarence gets more poignant every day.  So what does this have to do with business?

There is a tendency for all of us to have a “grass is always greener” mentality both in life and in business.  This song captures that as well as how one’s perspective can have an awful to do with one’s happiness.  Jerry sings about a number of things in the world that are pretty bad (war, children starving, etc.) and about standing on the moon, happy to be away from all of it.  In fact, with a broader perspective, they appear kind of small as he “watches it all roll by.”  The singer then realizes that while it’s serene on the moon with a lovely view of Heaven, the person he loves is still on earth.  Despite all the ugliness of the world, he wants to be back there.

It’s always a good idea to keep the broader perspective in business.   Be aware of the details but like the protagonist in the song, see them as part of a much bigger whole.  Things that may seem important up close are, in fact, relatively trivial.  It’s also an example of how things can take on added meaning when we use that additional perspective.  Jerry would be gone (along with Brent, the Dead’s keyboard player) in a handful of years after this was released.  I can’t listen to this without getting chills – he has a lovely view of Heaven but would rather be with us.  In fact, Garcia had almost died shortly before this song was written – I’ve always thought Robert Hunter was writing these lyrics with that in mind.

As businesspeople, a little time on the moon is a good thing.  Take a step back and don’t get caught up in any one moment or weekly report.  Stand on that proverbial moon.  You’ll “hear a cry of victory/And another of defeat” and realize that it’s the journey as much as it is the destination.  Coming along?

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