Monthly Archives: March 2017

It All Comes Out In The Wash

I’m not quite sure what to make of our Foodie Friday Fun topic this week. It’s a piece I saw that discusses how someone invented a bag that you can use to cook dinner in your washing machine. Not, it’s not from The Onion. Apparently, the person who invented it was moved by a piece he saw about homeless people using the laundromat as a sanctuary of sorts. There, the homeless get water, clean up, do laundry, charge devices, etc. He wanted to add cooking to the list.

한국어: 유럽향 드럼세탁기 (모델명_F1047TD)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The thinking behind this is that a washing machine is like a sous vide like environment in that it’s a water bath. The problem is that it really isn’t. An immersion circulator holds the sous vide bath at a constant temperature for any period of time required to cook the food. I did steak in mine last night holding the food for one hour at 126 degrees. A typical washing machine uses water that’s somewhere around 110 degrees, nowhere near hot enough to cook anything beyond very rare, if at all. The time a load of laundry is fully immersed in the hot water isn’t long enough either.

Putting aside the obvious problems, what I like about this is that it demonstrates outside of the box thinking. People cook on their car engines (mmmm – is that cylinder head in the potatoes?) and bake their lasagna in a dishwasher. Grilled cheese using your clothes iron? Why not! How often have you sat down to solve a problem and immediately discounted some of the more bizarre solutions out of hand? That’s something that happens a lot in group brainstorming sessions. My feeling is that no idea is terrible and no idea is great until they’ve been thought through and explored. In the case of the sous video laundry bags, I’d probably not have kept going, but the fact that they now exist has me asking myself are there any other purposes for which the technology can be used?

Ever used a microwave oven? It was a mistake, the by-product of radar research. Played with a Slinky? Another mistake. So were potato chips, chocolate chip cookies, and penicillin. While you may have some great ideas that turn out to be not so great, how can they be repurposed? Maybe the bad stuff will come out in the wash, leaving you with something brilliant?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Thinking Aloud

The Margin Of Error

One bit of my old life as a broadcaster that I seem unable to leave behind is the ratings. TV ratings – and specifically those from Nielsen – are the currency of the TV ad business and billions of dollars of media are bought and sold based on these numbers. What caught my eye this morning was the reporting of last week’s late night ratings and the analysis connected to the report. The writer did a good job dissecting the numbers except that they conveniently failed to mention one thing that should be instructive to any of us in business: the margin of error.

English: Graph showing weekly Nielsen Ratings ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What the author failed to mention is that there was no statistical significance between the reported audiences in any of the numbers that Nielsen was reporting. Since the numbers discussed in the piece were Adult 18-49 numbers, the reporting is based on a subsample of Nielsen’s panel, meaning that the margin of error is wider than on all the ratings as a whole. While I don’t have a rating book in front of me, I know there always used to be a disclaimer in every book explaining that the numbers it contains are only accurate up to a point. They’re estimates. When we’re looking at number this small (and the late-night numbers are in tenths of a point), it’s just as possible that the network reported in third place could, in fact, have more viewers than the network reported as in first place.

The point here isn’t to denigrate the ratings system (I’ll save that for another screed). The point is to remind each of us that almost every piece of data that we look at needs to be taken in context and with appropriate disclaimers. What I find helpful is to pay attention to trends and not to absolutes. The only numbers without a margin of error are those pertaining to actual money received and actual money spent, and even those are generally only snapshots of a moment in time.

The next time someone comes to you with a data point, ask about the margin of error or about any factors that could affect that data. New visitors to your website are up? What percentage of people routinely delete cookies and, therefore, seem to be new when they’re not. App installs are up? How many people deleted the app last week, was that an increase, and could the new installs, in fact, be reinstalls? See what I mean?

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Getting Elected Isn’t The Win

The big news at the end of last week had to do with the withdrawal of a bill that would have changed the laws regarding health insurance in this country. If you’ve been here in the screed before you know that we don’t do politics, so I’m going to refrain from any commentary for or against what happened. There is, however, a pretty good business (and life) lesson to be taken from Friday’s activities.

One thing you heard over and over was that the folks who wanted to change the existing law had 7 years to come up with a plan that would be better. It took them 7 years to control both Congress and The White House, thereby assuring that their plan would become law, assuming, of course, that it was palatable to the members of their party. It wasn’t, and so it hasn’t (become law, that is).

What can we learn from this? That it’s easier to win an election than it is to find the consensus you need to run the government. Winning is easy; governing is hard. The same thinking applies to managing a business. Becoming a manager is easy; managing the business is hard.

I met with a potential client last week who had recently been promoted into his job. He’s a smart, young highly motivated guy. In the course of our conversation, he mentioned that he was having some trouble adjusting to his new role and was finding it difficult to get things done as quickly and efficiently as he wanted. I told him that I had suffered from the same thing 35 years ago when I was handed my first department to run. Getting the job was a lot easier than doing the job.

What does that mean for you? If you’re looking for that next promotion, you might want to focus on the challenges of preparing to do the actual work rather than the challenges of getting a promotion. Trust me: the powers that be will appreciate your focus on execution and that will increase the chances of that promotion.

If you’re running your own business, a focus on execution is a good thing as well. Satisfied customers are more important that finding lots of new ones. There are tons of studies that show that using resources to keep existing customers happy is more profitable that spending resources on finding new customers (it costs 5x more to find a new customer than to retain one!).

Getting elected or promoted to a position isn’t really the win. Getting stuff done, whether it’s in your cubicle or on the floor of Congress, is the real test, don’t you think?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Sampuru

This Foodie Friday, the topic is sampuru. No, you probably don’t call anything by that name but you’ve seen it. It’s the fake food you often see in the lobby or window of Japanese restaurants. Great sampuru is incredibly realistic and can negate the need even to look at a menu. Like many seemingly simple things (such as making the rice for sushi), sampuru artists require years of training.

Typically for this space, as I was thinking about sampuru, a business thought came to me. Fake, plastic food has its business counterpart although they’re not called sampuru. I call them empty suits, but I’m not sure we should limit the term to people.

Your typical empty suit, like great fake food, gives the appearance of being real and nourishing. The reality is that they look great but can be toxic if ingested. In fact, I think they’re easier to spot than great sampuru. Ask an empty suit for an opinion and it will either be the same as either the boss’s or of whomever in the room they’re trying to please if they have an opinion at all. You see, empty suits rarely have enough knowledge about a topic to give a well-reasoned opinion about anything. They may rattle off a number of industry buzzwords but if you try to dissect what it is they’re saying it becomes obvious that, as Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, there’s no there there.

Oddly enough, I think entire businesses can be sampuru. Coincidentally, I ate at a Japanese restaurant the other evening that I would call an empty suit. It looked fine – a sushi bar, teppanyaki tables, etc., but the food was nondescript, the service was lackadaisical, and the teppan chef I saw was just barely going through the motions. It was a sampuru – a plastic model of a business that looked like the real thing but wasn’t even close to being it.

We need to make sure our businesses don’t fall into the trap of being sampuru – of looking like we’re fresh and flourishing when, in fact, we’re dead and toxic. As executives, we need to stay informed and not be afraid to offer our own opinions about things. We’ll be wrong sometimes but by being true to ourselves maybe we’ll also advance the conversation to new, more profitable ground. You with me?

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Unkept Promises, Ungathered Feedback

Last week I wrote about how a company with which I did business became a source of annoyance. I realize that the odds are slim that they read the piece, especially since they, through a surrogate, managed to do something even more annoying than spam a good customer.

A few days ago, I got an email from a company who was acting on behalf of the golf ball reseller with whom I had done business. The email lead with “We want to hear your opinion. It will take less than 15 seconds” and featured the logo of the reseller. It further stated that the company:

asked us to contact you to hear about your experience regarding your recent order. Your ratings and comments, whether positive or negative, will help improve their customer service. Your review is also valuable information for new customers who are considering shopping with this company. All feedback will be made public, we will not publish your name.

Scrolling down through the mail, I just had to award 1 to 5 stars, which I did. When I hit the link to enter, I was taken to a website which asked me to write a few words of feedback about my transaction. No problem, at least not until I tried to submit my review. You see, the page wouldn’t submit until I had also written a review of each of the three brands of balls I had ordered, leaving stars for each one as well as several words of text. The 15 seconds (actually quite a few more) being up, I closed the browser tab, feedback, rating, and review unsubmitted.

Yet another thing we can’t do in marketing. We can’t make promises that we know won’t be kept. Asking for “15 seconds” of my time is fine. Requiring many more seconds (minutes, actually) under a false pretense isn’t. The feedback I left initially was my opinion (positive, by the way) of the transaction as well as the quality of what I had received. It would have served to encourage people to do business with this company since they deliver what they promise at an excellent value. Instead, they got nothing, because a vendor they had hired put a gun to my head and demanded I write multiple reviews and wouldn’t take what I had written for them until I did so.

It’s a customer-centric world, folks. You can’t turn a happy customer into one that is left with a bad taste in their mouth because of something you want, not the customer. And for goodness sake, don’t promise anything that you won’t deliver, OK?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Huh?

Upon A Solid Foundation

Chuck Berry passed this weekend. When I heard the news I mentioned it to a younger friend who asked “who?” That made me a little sad, but it also made me think about today’s topic, as did a couple of other things that transpired over the last few days.

Publicity photo of Chuck Berry.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, Mr. Berry. Chuck Berry, as you might have learned over the last couple of days of news, is one of the founding fathers of rock and roll. While you might not know him if you’re younger than about 50, you certainly know his music. Johnny B. Goode is a song any young rock musician has played, and it was a concert standard of dozens of bands from The Grateful Dead to Jimi Hendrix to The Rolling Stones. The Beatles had hits with Roll Over Beethoven and Rock And Roll Music. Many other bands either had hits covering one of his songs or stealing one of his songs and making one of their own out of it (The Beach Boys Surfin’ USA is Sweet Little Sixteen reworked, for example).

Anyone who has strapped on an electric guitar and rocked out sits on the shoulders of Chuck Berry, among others. Heck, he was a big enough influence on this kid that when I got my first electric guitar as I turned 13, I wanted a Gibson ES-335, the kind that Chuck Berry played.

It’s not just music history that got me thinking. The men’s and women’s golf tours each played tournaments this weekend that saluted key individuals in their history. The LPGA played the Founders Cup, which was established to honor the 13 original Founders of the LPGA. Several of those women are still living and sat by the 18th green. As the players finished, each one went to thank the founders personally. The PGA Tour contested The Arnold Palmer Invitational, a tournament hosted in years past by Mr. Palmer but which has morphed into a tribute to one of the men who made professional golf what it is today. Which leads to today’s topic.

What each of these things reminds us is that none of us stand alone in business. Our success rests upon a solid foundation, one that was built by many people. Our parents, our teachers, and our mentors in business are the obvious ones. There were also those who preceded us in our field, blazing the trail and making mistakes so that we don’t have to. You might wake up with a great idea for a new business or product, but I guarantee the seeds were planted by those who went before.

Maybe today is a good day to think about and examine the foundation upon which our success rests? It’s an even better idea to thank someone who built yours, don’t you think?

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Filed under Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

No Cabbage For The Corned Beef

It’s Foodie Friday as well as St. Patrick’s Day! Most people in the U.S. associate the holiday with food (as well as with drink). Corned beef and cabbage is generally the food we think of here, and frankly, that’s a little weird since it isn’t really Irish. As the father of two lovely Irish-Jewish daughters, however, I can feel good about it since in many ways it represents the commingling of the Irish and Jewish immigrant communities.

English: Closeup view of A lady shoving a cabb...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After all, corned beef, and beef generally, wasn’t something widely available in Ireland, and you can’t go into a Jewish deli without seeing corned beef on the menu. One explanation is this:

Many maintain that the dish is simply not Irish at all. The close proximity of the Irish and Jewish communities at the time is said to be largely responsible for the popularity of corned beef among the Irish immigrants. According to thekitchenproject.com, when the Irish arrived in America, they couldn’t find a bacon joint like they had in Ireland so they gravitated toward the Jewish corned beef, which was very similar in texture.

I was shopping for my brisket to corn as well as a cabbage yesterday. Despite a huge swath of produce department space having been allocated to cabbages, there wasn’t single cabbage in stock due to a great sale price (I ended up paying 3x the price in the organic department!). The briskets were plentiful although they were packed in those cryovac bags that make it difficult to see through the printed graphics in order to assess the quality of the product.

What’s the business point for you today? First, if you’re running a sale or know that demand will be high due to a holiday, it’s imperative that you have product on hand. Nothing gets a consumer angrier than the lack of product availability. In this case, the store hadn’t procured enough stock to replenish the shelves, even though the item is evergreen, meaning it will still have its regular level of sale after the holiday. Next, make it easy for customers to examine the product. How often do you see an open box in a store where someone has tried to investigate the actual product as opposed to what’s displayed on the box? Frankly, I think one reason online shopping hasn’t completely obliterated the in-store experience is exactly that. People want to see, feel, and smell the product before taking it home. We need to help them! Finally, ask yourself how you can create an experience around the brand or product. It’s easy on a holiday such as this, but marketing needs a push the other 364 days too!

To my Irish friends and relatives, enjoy the day. I’m going to get my brisket going shortly, and I’m going to put bacon in the cabbage to make it a bit more Irish. After all, isn’t authenticity a key marketing asset as well?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints