Monthly Archives: December 2015

Posts Of The Year – 2015 – Foodie Edition

This will be our last post of 2015, and it’s the most-read Foodie Friday post from this year.  Since writing this post, I’ve actually met Big Al himself.  He enjoyed the post almost as much as I enjoyed his food.  Have a happy and safe New Year and we’ll see you on the other side of December!


Foodie Friday, and our food fun this week comes from a restaurant in which I’ve never eaten but of which I am a customer. A very happy customer, actually, and my happiness is all due to an excellent lesson in customer care.

Big Al’s BBQ & Catering is located in Raleigh. As Al’s website proclaims:

We aren’t the cheapest Carolina BBQ vendor, but we guarantee freshness and award-winning flavors you can’t find anywhere. Period. Come eat with us, or call in and order out! We’ll pack your plate just fine.

Honestly, I’ve not done that. What I have done is to order merchandise from him. You see, my Dad is also called Big Al and I thought it would be a fun surprise to send him a shirt and a hat bearing the Big Al name and logo.  I placed an online order and entered my parents’ address for shipping.  After a week when I hadn’t received an excited call from Florida I began to wonder about the status of my order.  It was then that I noticed the receipt said “local pickup” meaning they were waiting for me to walk into their store and grab the goods.

I emailed the address from which the receipt came explaining that there had been a mix-up.  Within 20 minutes I had a note back from Al himself explaining that he had tried to text me (I had used a land line on the order) to ask about shirt color and was glad I had sent the note.  Here is where the lesson begins.

A quick exchange of emails to furnish the correct shipping address concluded with Al saying “I’ll get that out to you.”  No long explanation, no haggling over if the error was on my end or on his.  Just “I’ll get that out to you. ”  This morning, I received a text – “Going to ship your Dad’s package this morning priority mail…I am picking up the freight for all your troubles.”

If you take one thing away from the roughly 1,700 screeds I’ve written I hope it’s the rock-solid focus on the customer Al demonstrated.  Heck, I’m some schlub from out-of-state that ordered a shirt and hat.  I’m not going to be coming in weekly for food.  Al treated me as I assume he does everyone – with respect, an assumption that the customer is right, and a willingness to go the extra mile.

If you are ever near Raleigh I hope you’ll hit Big Al’s for a meal.  Order out if you can.  Tell your friends to go. Even if you have other dining plans, do me a favor and swing by and let him know you admire his customer-centric focus.  I sure do. I wonder if he can ship ribs to Connecticut?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints

Posts Of The Year – #1

The post below was originally called Worst. Call. Ever. and was written the morning after the Super Bowl.  Maybe it really resonated with all of you or maybe it was just good SEO, but this became the most-read post of 2015.  It’s the kind of post I love to write: take an everyday event and extract some point that makes us better businesspeople.  Tomorrow we’ll have the year’s top Foodie Friday post (even though it’s Thursday!).  Enjoy.

I suspect you watched the Super Bowl last night. Hopefully, you did so all the way to the end and you witnessed the subject of today’s rant. For any of you who missed it, the Seahawks were driving and were on the 1-yard line, about to win the game. They just had to run it in and had 3 tries to do so (OK, maybe 2 since they only had one time out left). I’ll let the Times explain: 

A team with Marshawn Lynch, one of the best goal-line running backs in football, instead opted for a far riskier option, and Malcolm Butler made them pay, intercepting the ball at the goal line to effectively end the Seahawks’ hopes of winning a second consecutive Super Bowl.

Coach Pete Carroll took responsibility for the call after the game. So did his offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell. Whoever actually made the call, the decision joins an ignominious list of the worst coaching decisions in sports history.

There is a business point in that decision.  Simply put, rather relying on the proven strengths of his team, the coach opted for trickery.  Obviously, it backfired and they lost the game.  It’s a good lesson for all of us.  We invest a lot of time in building our team and our business.  We come to realize over that time the things at which we excel and which help us win.  Those are the things upon which we must rely, especially during crunch time.  Trying “trickeration” may seem like a fine idea but it usually isn’t as good as doing what is known to work.

It wasn’t absurd to think of trying a pass play when everyone is expecting a run.  What made it such a bad call was that the passing game hadn’t been particularly effective and the Seahawks had lived on Lynch’s running ability all season.  Expecting him to run at you is not the same as stopping him and the Patriots hadn’t done so without at least a yard gained during the game very often.   In business, it’s not about what the competition is expecting.  It’s not about trickery or fooling anyone.  It’s about executing better than they do and producing a better product or service.  Ask Apple.


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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks

Posts Of The Year – 2015 – #2

Continuing with the most read posts of this past year, here is one from April.  A close friend of mine killed himself (I didn’t know that for sure at the time) and it prompted me to step outside of the daily business screed and into something way more important.  Please read and pass it on.  More importantly, act when you see a reason.

This was not at all how I planned to start this week of blogging but sometimes reality rears its ugly head and our plans need to change.

Over the weekend I learned that a friend passed away.  He was relatively young – in his early forties – and while I’m at an age where death pays a visit in my world a lot more often than it used to, this one has shaken me up.  You see, this is a guy whose life was seemingly very much on track up until about 2 years ago.  He had some physical challenges – very bad arthritis – which made his job in golf difficult.  Things started downhill.  He tried to start a business but it never quite got off the ground.  His marriage broke up.  His social media activity became less frequent as did his general communication.  I even heard he was homeless at one point.  While none of the obituaries mention a cause of death, it may have been as simple as a broken heart, deep depression, or as complex as a suicide.  I don’t know that it matters.

I wrote something on this topic a year and a half ago:

We all know a person who displays symptoms of things not being right in their lives. Those symptoms could come in the form of substance abuse or a big weight gain. Maybe their personality has changed – gone from light to dark. If you care about that person, you probably think about a way to say something that asks about what’s going on. It’s hard – people have feelings, after all and they are probably just as aware as you are of what they’re doing. Probably more so.  The ensuing discussion can be hard for both of you.  Sometimes it can derail a friendship.  More often, it begins a healing process, but only if you care enough to say something.

I tried to follow that advice with this friend.  I tried to help with the business start-up, doing the digital work and marketing.  I invited him to come cook with me (he had professional training and loved a kitchen).  Other invitations to meet up went unanswered.  In short, I tried.  And yet I feel as if I could have done more. I didn’t really “say something.”

It’s easy to say that his family should have been helping – he has a lot of family in the area.  Who knows – maybe they were estranged.  Maybe he wasn’t keeping them informed.  How many of us tell our loved ones all is well when the reality is that our world has fallen apart?

I’m sorry to start the week on a down note but PLEASE.  If you have people in your lives who seem to be lost, helping them find their way is really about helping you too.  Be that selfish.  Do more. Don’t wait and don’t be afraid.  They might be gone before you overcome your fears.

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Posts Of The Year – 2015 – #3

I am going to continue an annual tradition this week and repost the most-read screeds of the past year.  I am very grateful to the folks from 91 countries around the world who read them this year, although I’m not sure why I seem to be so popular in Brazil (the second country behind the US in terms of readership!).  This post, the third most-read, non-food post, was from October.  It touches on a subject that came up a few other times this year, and one I expect will be front and center in 2016: cord-cutting.  It was originally titled  Shaving The Cord. Enjoy!

You might have heard something over the weekend about a glitch in the Nielsen ratings system that affected the estimated audiences all the way back to March.  While that is kind of problematic for the TV industry, it was other Nielsen data that presents much more of a long-term problem.  As Cynopsis reported:

The top 40 cable channels have lost more than 3 percent of their distribution over the last four years, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Nielsen ratings data. How to account for the decline, which exceeds the loss of subscribers? Pay-TV customers are signing up for less expensive bundles with fewer channels, says the WSJ. “What we are seeing is some cord cutting and some cord shaving,” Nielsen global president Stephen Hasker told the paper. “Consumer time and attention is shifting.”

You can read the Wall Street Journal article by clicking through.  As someone who spent a long time in the TV business, I understand why channels are bundled.  Way back when, the market was far less fragmented and the business model evolved where there really weren’t tiers other than the true premium channels of HBO and local sports networks.  Today, even the “major networks” of ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC attract audience ratings in the low single digits even for top programs.  Yes, DVR viewing can boost some of their audiences as much as 80% but think about it.  What’s the difference between watching “Gotham” via Hulu (the internet) or on your DVR (the cable bundle)?  Other than being able to skip the commercials on a DVR, not much.  In fact, one could argue that advertisers would prefer that consumers watch in the non-skippable internet interface.

The real point is that how consumers come to content has changed and yet the people who are the middlemen in offering the content – the cable companies – haven’t moved off a business model that evolved in the 1980s.  As the  Journal states:

Data points are piling up to show “cord shaving” is for real. At least two pay-TV providers say about 10% of gross TV subscriber additions are customers who are taking a slimmed-down bundle—in contrast to the bigger ones with hundreds of channels that can cost upward of $100 a month.

So the choice for the providers, as it is for all of us in our businesses,  is to change or to shrink.  They can’t just keep raising prices.  At some point that makes the problem even worse as consumers pay more for channels they don’t watch.  What’s your solution?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media

Gone Fishing

It’s a very warm Christmas Eve here in the east – warm enough that many of us will go play golf today in shorts.  Hard to think that’s it’s Christmas tomorrow. 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.  I wrote about it several years ago and 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!

Thanks Saveur!

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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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, What's Going On


I was on a call yesterday with a potential client and we were discussing his product. What he has done is to take a number of off the shelf products and integrate them into something really innovative and wonderful. At one point he expressed to me a bit of trepidation with respect to that. In theory, anyone could take those same components and build something similar, although it certainly would take them some time. In a word, he was concerned about defensibility.  

I told him that I was less concerned than he was about it. I likened him to a great chef. The magic is partially in the great ingredients for sure, but the real magic happens in how those ingredients are combined. His goal in building his dish isn’t to make something that is defensible but rather something that delights his customers, is really unique, and that can continue to evolve over time based on feedback.

Instead of focusing on patents to make something defensible, my feeling is that time and money are better spent on drilling down on why a customer will want to choose your product and only your product as a solution to their problem. Remember that the first question you need to ask is “what problem am I solving?” If you are unclear about that, no patent will protect you from failure.

How defensible is Facebook? It really wouldn’t be very hard to do what they’re doing, or at least it wouldn’t have been 10 years ago. Their biggest defense now is simply scale. We join social networks because our friends are there, and migrating everyone we care about to another platform when the one we’re on satisfies our needs is difficult. The newer platforms such as Periscope and Snapchat are solving a different problem which is why they are scaling too.

Many people do what I do. There are tons of consultants and even more bloggers. I like to think that what my clients and my readers get from me can’t be duplicated since my life experience, intelligence, and creativity are mine alone. I’m sure each of them feel the same way about themselves. My blog and my business are defensible because I use those raw materials to solve problems in a unique way. Do you?

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Filed under Consulting

The Blend

One of the really special things about the holiday season in my town is the concert put on each year by the high school music department. They held the 75th annual one over the weekend and it was great. It also offered us an instructive business point as well.

Philharmonic Orchestra of Jalisco (Guadalajara...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The school’s band, orchestra, chorale, and choir all perform. While I never played in the orchestra, I did play in my school’s band (saxophone, thanks for asking) and I sang in the choir. When I go to concerts of this sort, I always listen for the one thing my conductors used to emphasize: the blend. If you’ve ever gone to a school concert, inevitably you hear the voice or playing of a really talented kid above all the others. That’s exactly what you don’t want to hear, because it has the effect of distorting the overall sound.  Really wonderful musical groups sing and play as one instrument.  Every component of that instrument is in sync – on exactly the same beat with exactly the same dynamics.  It’s the conductor‘s responsibility to make that happen. I recall how when our musical groups were doing extremely well in rehearsal, the conductor would often walk to the back of the auditorium and listen.  We were all working together so well that we really didn’t need to be lead.

Like that conductor, a great manager needs to be able to make the blend happen.  We need to let individuals sing their parts loudly, but we have to blend all of those parts together in a single, overarching product that’s our brand presented as one. Without the blend, it’s just a cacophony.  It’s not just within your own unit either.  The blending across departments is critical today more than ever.  As an example, think about how marketing and tech have become so totally intertwined. The Chief Marketing Officer must blend with the Chief Technical Officer in a seamless duet or the organization is absolutely not going to sound right.

The next time you hear some live music, listen for the blend and think of your company.  Are you putting out a unified sound that’s greater than the sum of its parts, or does the world hear a lot of strong pieces that are disjointed and not pleasing to the ear?


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Filed under Music, Uncategorized