You can tell it’s a Monday because he’s writing about golf once more. Well, I’m happy. It’s finally golf weather here in the NY area – if you don’t mind starting off when the temperatures are around 40 degrees, that is. I spent the last couple of days trying to shake off the winter rust. One thing to which I paid particular attention was probably the most under-appreciated – but most critical – part of the golf swing: the grip.
Every golf instructor begins working with you by asking to see your grip. How you hold the club can trigger many issues that even a perfect swing can’t fix since it affects everything in the swing. The interesting thing is that there is no one right approach although there are some very important basics that all good grips have in common. No, I’m not going to spend the next hundred words teaching you about golf grips since this is a business blog. However, there is a business point to be made.
All good grips return the club face to a neutral position at impact regardless of how the club is manipulated during the swing. Your approach to your strategic thinking needs to be the same. Regardless of how the data or discussions swing your thinking, when you reach the time to take decisions – the point of impact – you need to be in as neutral a position as possible to avoid wayward shots. Interpret the data with as few prejudices as possible. Maybe the numbers show your pet project isn’t producing. As Sonny Corleone said, it’s just business, not personal. Keep your grip – and your attitude – neutral.
Neutral thinking draws out alternative solutions to problems or opportunities. It keeps negative thinking at bay and doesn’t let the excitement of the moment when something goes right cloud your longer term thinking. Just as a neutral grip tends to keep the golf ball from going off-line, a neutral approach to business thinking can keep us heading toward the goal. Clear?
It’s Foodie Friday and today I want you to think about if you’re a cook or if you’re a baker. Your immediate response, assuming you spend time in the kitchen, might be “Gee, I do both.” That’s probably true. When I’m preparing the Thanksgiving feast, I bake pies and the occasional cake but I am definitely NOT a baker.
Maybe it’s my rebellious nature (those of use who lived through the 1960’s have that streak) but baking is way too rigid for me. Baking is chemistry. It’s Baroque music to cooking’s jazz. One has specific formulas and rules; the other encourages improvisation. I know how certain flavors go together and armed with just an idea and my tools I can usually make something pretty good. Try that with baking.
When you make a baking mistake it’s pretty obvious. Not so with cooking. I can eyeball a tablespoon of oil for a pan. Try eyeballing a tablespoon of baking powder armed with the knowledge that if you’re off the whole project fails. This is not to say I think less of bakers. They are far more precise and patient than I tend to be in the kitchen. I can’t see very many bakers I know or see on TV going off on a rant while many of the chefs appear to be aggressive, anxious, and on edge. Walk in to any restaurant and you’ll see them both. Which is, of course, the business point.
Like a restaurant, any business needs both bakers and cooks on the team to produce a complete product. You need the team members who try new things and crave pushing the boundaries. You also need the ones who are calmer and more grounded in the “recipes” that make your business go. Which brings us back to my initial question. Are you a baker or a cook? There is no right answer, but whatever your answer is should remind you that you need someone to make the other half of the menu. You might be a cook who can bake a little (me) or a baker who has kitchen skills but finding both types are what will make your business well-rounded and last.
One of my mantras is that we can’t confuse the business with the tools. I remind clients of this all the time when they’re confused about the imperative to be on a specific platform or address a particular market segment. While they might think their need is to build a better app, I’d rather we explore the underlying business processes and make sure they’re optimal from a customer perspective. The app we’ll then build will reflect a great customer experience and not magnify the flaws in our offering.
Here is another mantra. People hate middlemen but love people who add value. Think about the great sharing economy that’s emerged over the last few years. Uber doesn’t own a single car but facilitates millions of rides. They’re a middleman but they add value by provide generally inexpensive, fast service to consumers while providing income for people with a car and no particular place to go. AirBnB has done the same thing for lodging. I have a spare room or a vacant apartment, you are visiting where I am and don’t want to pay ridiculous rates (and “resort fees“) to stay in a so-so hotel. They add value by putting us together.
In both of those cases, as in others like Etsy, the business has not changed. Someone needs a room or a ride or a scarf. They want them to be fairly priced. They want them to be of great quality and dependable and delivered on the customer’s own terms (timing, etc). These companies have not changed the business. They’ve changed how they made the business happen. The “how” is new, not the “what.”
We need to stop thinking of transforming into “digital” companies. There are too many of us trying to serve the technology rather than making the technology serve us. Maybe it’s the old guy talking but I don’t see much difference now in the business world I entered in the late 1970’s. Find people with problems and help them to solve them. It may be a need to get somewhere or to be better informed or to be in two meetings in two different cites an hour apart. We’ve solved those business problems with technology. My business – media – has been among those most affected by this and there is no doubt that the next two or three years will see even more change as people migrate to more over-the-top viewing. But the business hasn’t changed, really. People want to be educated and entertained and are willing to pay – either through attention or through their wallets – to see content that does that. Boy, how the “how” has changed, but at it’s core the “what” is that same as it was when Uncle Miltie made America laugh.