Monthly Archives: August 2014

Baked Oatmeal

Foodie Friday and our topic today is oatmeal.


(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know – not the best thing for breakfast on a hot summer morning but I know plenty of people who start the day with a steaming bowl of grain no matter what the weather so I’m pressing on.  I was reading one of the many food blogs I scan regularly and it made a great point.  The piece is called Why You Should Stop Boiling Your Oatmeal and Start Baking It.  I’ll admit I’m one of those lazy slobs who throws my oatmeal of choice (Irish Oats, thank you) into the microwave.  The Mrs. boils hers almost every morning – obviously she is a lot more patient than her husband.  Baking never entered either of our minds.  Maybe it should have:

With baked oatmeal, all you have to do is toss it all in a baking dish and slide it into the oven. In about 30 minutes, you’ve got a dish of steaming, tender oats. To enrich it, I use milk instead of water, and just one egg lightens the texture. It’s the perfect stress-free hot breakfast to serve to guests. Why? There’s no à la minute cooking: the oven does all the work.

There is a business point in here too.  In many cases it’s not what we’re doing that’s an issue but how we’re doing it.  People tend to believe their memories instead of facts.  When a business does things in a certain way, that’s a memory.  The facts we might gather if we stepped back and assessed the situation with an open mind might tell us that the process is inefficient or unproductive.  It’s not the what – we need to accomplish the task – but maybe there is a better way to do so.

We need to think about baking the oatmeal in our business lives by asking if there is a better, more efficient, more profitable way to go about it on a regular basis.  Maybe over breakfast?

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What Price Ethics?

So here is an interesting question for you.  I was reading the results of a study conducted by the good folks from Trade Extensions that concerned how consumers view ethics and sustainability and how they affect purchasing decisions.  When you ask people how important it is that companies behave ethically and with an eye towards sustainability, four out of five consumers regard it as important.  That would suggest that doing the right thing (whatever that may be) is a critical factor in purchasing, right?

Not so much:

When asked to rank the three most important attributes when shopping, the most important factor is price – 40% of consumers ranked this number one.  The second most important factor is value for money – 30% ranked this number one. And the third most important factor is quality –  16% ranked this number one.  Choosing an ethical company or brand when shopping is the most important factor and ranked number one for 2% of UK and US consumers.

Hmm.  So is that a license for a company to do whatever they want as long as prices are low?  Given some of the voices speaking out against Walmart, for example, over things such as foreign product sourcing, treatment of product suppliers, environmental practices, etc., apparently not.  Like most things in business, it’s not quite that black and white.  The research shows a desire from consumers to buy ethically but ultimately price, value and quality are the deciding factors.

Other studies have shown similar results.  One from Accenture found that sales and competitive pricing (61%) are by far the most critical factors in getting consumers to make a purchase. Superior products (36%) and customer experience (35%) are also key, according to respondents, followed closely by customer loyalty programs (31%) and relevant promotions (26%). Ad campaigns and celebrity endorsements trailed by a significant margin, presumably as they’re more influential in driving awareness than completed purchases.

So back to ethical behavior.  Can any company afford to ignore it?  I suspect it’s very possible to do good while doing well and to enhance the quality of consumer’s lives in an honorable way.  Maybe it’s not much of a selling point because so few companies have that focus?  What is your take?

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Filed under Consulting, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Experts? Hardly.

You may be following the saga of Foursquare as it tries to find a business model that works.

Foursquare Logo

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The bloom of collecting badges has clearly worn off and almost every app has some sort of check-in feature to let your friends know where you are. Now Foursquare seems to be moving in a direction that will let them compete with Yelp (which has a good business model) and are splitting off the check-in part of the service into another app (Swarm).
Maybe you got the same email I did the other day which talked about their new feature called “Expertise”:

In the new Foursquare, we want to reward people who share their expertise, helping other people to great experiences. When you leave great tips, you make progress. And, the more people like or save them, the faster you’ll earn expertise.

It goes on to say that all of the tips you post thereafter will show they were posted by an expert.  On behalf of people who actually DO have some expertise on a few things, may I call BS?  I’ll even go further: I’m offended.

I’m offended because any moron with the price of dinner and a mobile device can write a review which may be complete blather and very inaccurate. I have no problem there.  But if they do so 10 or more times, does that really make them an expert or just a blithering idiot?  How is anyone to recognize the real experts?

I’m offended  because Foursquare is doing something that I find offensive among a number of content companies.  They are using the very same audience they sell to marketers to make their product.  The reward to the consumer for doing so?  An ego trip:

Once you’ve earned an expertise, we both mark your tips as coming from an expert (so the world knows), and make sure more people see them because they’re high quality. And, when you’re looking for great things to do when you’re at a place, you can see which ones come from experts.

How about something more tangible – a gift card, a weekly sweepstakes, anything that reflects the value of the contribution?  Foursquare seems to believe the famous Woody Allen quote that showing up is 80% of success.  If you show up at a place and write about it, you’re a success – an EXPERT!  My take?  Hardly.  Yours?

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You HAVE To Read It – It’s My Birthday – Again!

I realize that might be the most ridiculous post title ever but it happens to be true.  It’s also the post I wrote last year on this day.  I’m going to tweak it a bit to reflect that I’m a year older but in reading it again, I kind of liked it.

A picture of a birthday cake

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

OK, not that this is a must-read, but it is, in fact, my birthday.  Maybe there’s an attention whore living deep inside me although I suppose any of us who dump our thinking on to the World Wide Web have some of that.  In any event, birthdays are one of those occasions that prompt introspection.  My favorite author, Mark Twain, said that when he was a younger man he could remember anything whether it happened or not.  Much of what you read here is exactly that – what I remember or have figured out along the way.

I turned 59 today.  I’m not much of a numerology guy, but since today is 8/5 I thought I’d look up what meaning is associated with my birth date.  Apparently 5 is associated with freedom. “5” people seek change and adventure.  What stood out to me was that 5’s are naturally curious and are  constantly trying to find the answers to life’s questions (maybe there IS a reason I’m writing!).   5’s are very persuasive and excel at motivating people which makes them ideal candidates to become salesmen.  Given the early part of my professional life, that fits.

8’s are born with natural leadership skills. We’re very ambitious and goal oriented, with strong organizational skills and broad vision.  I don’t know how they figure this stuff out but I like the thought.  It also applies to what I’ve been doing for the last 5 years as a consultant.  Of course, one can add the 5 and 8 together and get 13, a lucky number in numerology.  For me, that applies as well: I’m fortunate to have my health, a great family, many friends and more close friends than to what one ought to be entitled in one lifetime.

Then there is my full birthdate number, including the year.  I’m a “33,” a “master number”, which is a big deal to numerology people:

Qualities: responsibility, consciousness, mysticism, compassion, indulgence. It provides: ability to worry about other people, resolution of conflicts. Goals: to bring a transformation to society.

I don’t have any big business thoughts today – I’m giving those a rest so I can enjoy the important stuff.  Yes, I’m working but I’m doing so with a smile on my face as I get Happy Birthday calls.  The hard part is holding this feeling for the other 364 days and the realities of business show themselves.  Hey – maybe there IS a business point today.  Thanks for reading – that’s a gift any day.


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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud


One of the things you might hear at a college graduation party is “well, at least there is no more homework!”

English: Don't waste your time and do your hom...

English: Don’t waste your time and do your homework! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I hear that I don’t have the heart to tell them that the past 16 years of homework they’ve done in school are nothing compared to that which they’ll probably need to do out in the real world. Let me explain.

I’ve written before about the critical skills one needs to learn in school.  In addition to the critical thinking skills I wrote about in that post I’d add the ability to do homework to that list.  After all, what is homework but independent research and preparation for what is about to happen in the next class?  In my mind even when the homework is review it’s making sure that the concepts the teacher was trying to instill have taken hold.  The very act of having the discipline to work outside of the class setting without a teacher looking over your shoulder is a great skill as well.

Fast forward to business.  I expect that when I walk into a meeting everyone in the room (assuming they know that I’m coming) have already checked me out thoroughly.  They’ve read some of the screed, they’ve checked my website, maybe they sampled my Twitter feed and they most certainly checked my LinkedIn profile.  If they haven’t, they haven’t done their homework.  I used to tell my team that if they walk into a meeting and don’t know the agenda, the questions that might be asked, the others around the table, and what they want to have accomplished as they leave the meeting they have not done their homework.  As an ex-teacher, not doing one’s homework puts you on my bad side.

There is nothing more annoying than having a salesperson begin a meeting asking what they can do for me or my organization.  Even worse is when they ask a lot of questions that could have been answered with 10 minutes of searches.  Everyone’s time is valuable and offering solutions and value based on having done your homework decreases the time needed for things to get done.  Doing one’s homework no matter on which side of the table one sits is a basic and critical business skill.  Is it one you’re using?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Old Cooks, New Cuisines

It’s Foodie Friday and this week I want to report on a business point I learned at supper last evening. IMG_20140801_092530It was a lovely, small Italian restaurant and the food they were serving was really excellent. High quality ingredients were used which always makes a difference but the skills the cook showed were impressive. He had a firm grasp on southern Italian fare.

I chatted up the owner who, as it turned out was both Italian and the wife of the cook.  I mentioned how much I appreciated his skill and apparent knowledge of Italian food and techniques.  I then asked where he was from, wondering as I asked it if he was from the north of Italy or the south.  As it turned out, the answer was south as is VERY far south.

As in Morocco.

They had met in New York  and she had taught him Italian food.  He was already an accomplished cook when they met and he was able to translate what he knew into another form.  After all, what is couscous if not a cousin to acini di pepe or pastina?  Many of the spices and seasonings are the same and the basics – knife skills, etc. – never change.  What does this have to do with business?

We tend to pigeonhole people.  This one is an accountant, that one is a fabulous assistant.  We don’t spent enough time thinking about how the skills they have can be used elsewhere in other contexts to make the business better.  There was a shrimp dish last night which had an extraordinary broth.  The cook had added a bit of his marinara – just enough to make the “usual” scampi broth a lovely light pink.  That sort of addition is more common in his native cuisine than Italian and, with the addition of some scallions it make for a great dish.  We need to let smart people with excellent skills use them in new cuisines and see what emerges.  As I found last night, the result is often surprisingly good.

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