Monthly Archives: February 2018

Measure What You Can Measure

The NFL is getting ready for the annual combine. This is where players get tested both physically and mentally to see if they’re NFL material. There is psychological testing to test intelligence. They run the 40-yard dash. It’s a 4-day job interview, much of which plays out on TV.

Teams use the data to make decisions about which players to select in the annual draft. They can stack the reams of information from the combine with the data generated over the course of a player’s college career and choose someone who will, hopefully, fit into a team’s depth chart as well as its philosophy.

Anyone who follows the NFL will tell you that all of this data has its place but it’s far from infallible. Kurt Warner, a 2-time NFL MVP went undrafted. So did Warren Moon, a Hall Of Fame quarterback too. Put Tony Romo on that list as well. No team looked at the data and thought any of these men were worthy of a draft pick. Oops.

You just might be guilty of the same thing in your business. The data isn’t infallible and the data only measures what it’s designed to measure. Tom Brady (selected 199th in his draft year) recently told NFL prospects that they can’t measure heart. He’s right, and it’s because there isn’t a solid way to capture that data.

How are you making this mistake? You might be using one data point to draw a conclusion that isn’t right. Correlation isn’t causation, as we hear so often. Grateful Dead fans don’t all smoke pot and have long hair. Identifying a target as those fans doesn’t mean you should be promoting to the stereotype.

Another faulty conclusion might be due to an error in the data itself. I had an advertiser on a site I ran complain that they weren’t getting great results. They had neglected to respond to a question from their salesperson about turning on frequency capping to extend their reach and limit the number of times a day someone saw their ad. They were reading the data correctly but the data itself was faulty due to an underlying issue.

One of my favorite data error is the foundation of the entire TV business, the Nielsen Ratings. The TV and ad industries have attached an accuracy level to Nielsen ratings that even Nielsen says is unreasonable. A study of a few years back found in analyzing 11 years of data that the margin of error for reported results was often more than 10%. That might not sound like much but it can represent hundreds of thousands or even millions of impressions. The issue here is that buyers are too focused on the (inaccurate) numbers rather than on precise metrics such as sales.

Measure what you can measure. Don’t extend that measurement to other things that aren’t measured as well. I bet your results will improve. Let me know?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

New Greens, New Breaks

One of the first things you learn about writing is that you generally want to stick to writing “what you know.” That’s why things around here generally revolve around business, golf, and food. Sometimes those three things intersect (a bad food experience at an obviously failing snack bar on some golf course?) but generally I manage to get two of the three put together, and all the screeds have a business point to make.

Today, as is often the case on Mondays, something occurred to me on the golf course over the weekend. My home course replaced the greens last summer. We went from bent grass greens to Minverde Bermuda greens. I can hear your eyes rolling, but let me explain what that has meant and why it just might be meaningful to you and your business.

One thing with which many businesses are dealing, either directly or indirectly, is climate change. In the case of golf courses here in North Carolina, it’s meant that some strains of grass just can’t take the heat and clubs spend a lot of money trying to prevent them from dying. There are dead spots, root rot and massive fans that are installed near some greens which run up the power bill trying to cool down the grass that can’t take the heat. Our place lost parts of 5 greens two years ago. The takeaway is that you can believe or not believe in climate change but you can’t ignore the effects that whatever is going on is having. I don’t suspect you run a golf course, but you may stock seasonal items or have staffing needs that are weather-dependent and you can’t stick to the calendar as you once knew it.

That, however, isn’t my main point today. One of the other things that happened when they replaced the greens is that everything was different. The speed was different, the way the ball moved on the green was different, and the new greens were very hard, so you couldn’t land the ball where you used to because it would bounce and roll. The breaks (how the ball moved in response to the topography) were completely different, so all of the local knowledge you had was gone. I will tell you that it’s frustrating to have a putt you’ve made many times before suddenly not move as much as it once did. It is also difficult to train yourself to ignore the slope you know is there because you also know the ball isn’t moving the way it used to.

That sort of thing happens in your business. Things change and you can’t operate under your old belief system. I may believe the ball will move three feet left but on the new green, it barely moves. You may think to be on Main Street will assure you of foot traffic but when the new mall opens, your reality will be quite different. You need to do the best you can is reading the new terrain and adjust your thinking. Otherwise, you’re going to be missing the mark quite a bit, sort of like I did this weekend. New greens mean new breaks and that means a new look at everything you do. Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Reality checks

It’s Your Lucky Day!

It’s Foodie Friday and if you’ve been paying attention to the calendar, you’ve already had a month full of pizza, wine, heavenly hash, tater tots, frozen yogurt, plum pudding, and tortellini. Oh – that list only gets us part way through the month. Today, for example, is National Banana Bread Day as well as National Toast Day. Over the weekend, we can celebrate Tortilla Chip Day, Clam Chowder Day, and Chocolate Covered Nut Day. Finally, we can end the month celebrating pistachios, Kahlua (I assume the drink and not the pork), strawberries, pancakes, and chocolate souffle, each of which has a day.

Got indigestion yet? Maybe it should be National Bicarbonate Of Soda Day? Oh – that already exists (December 30). You can check this handy calendar to find out what days you can celebrate if you’re ever looking for a reason to party. Some of the things on the calendar are just silly and some, like the upcoming Pancake Day or the recently passed Pizza Day, get way more attention than others. That probably has to do with some important businesses getting behind the days (lots of free pizza deals on Pizza Day!), particularly those businesses that really have to stretch to tie into the “normal” days during the month: President’s Day, Groundhog Day, and, in some places, Mardi Gras. Despite some of the silliness, there is a legitimate reminder in all of this.

Think about Festivus. This, as you probably know, is the entirely fictional creation of the Seinfeld writers based on the actual family practices of one of the writers. It’s a way to celebrate the season without participating in the commercialism of the season. In my mind, it is the most prominent made-up day of them all. As Allen Salkin, the author of a book on Festivus wrote, “Festivus is completely flexible. There’s no ruling force telling you what to do. Nobody owns it.”

You need to think about that as you create your own day. Besides being great promotional platforms, these days can inspire lots of social interaction so that the onus is not just on your business to promote your day. While it may take some time to become known and anticipated by your customer base and the public at large, I believe the investment is worth the effort. Find what might be some doldrums in your calendar and make your day a tentpole event. The key thing is to make it fun, make it authentic (even if authentically tongue in cheek), and make it YOURS.

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Filed under food, What's Going On

Making A Deal

If you spend any time in business, you end up in a negotiation of some sort. It might begin even before you start at a job as you negotiate your salary. More likely, it happens as you work on a deal and document that deal with a contract. You might think that the deal is done when you shake hands but my experience has been that the deal is never really done, even once you’ve both signed that contract.

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To me, the contract is a reference point, something to which the parties can turn if there is a change in circumstances or confusion about expectations. As with any relationship, business deals tend to be fluid, but if the partners work in good faith, any problem is solvable. You should also remember that contracts generally last beyond the actual deal itself (check those clauses in the “survival” section).

Because agreements and partnerships are long-term, the negotiations have to be viewed in that long-term context as well. The odds are that success in the negotiation is not immediate. I have had a contract take longer to get done and signed than the term sheet that documents the general business points. It’s not because the former is done by lawyers and the latter generally by business people either. It really has more to do with the fact that others are getting involved. I’ve found that negotiating success is inversely proportionate to the number of people involved – two people can get something done that ten can’t, even though those ten can be helpful in surfacing new approaches when things bog down.

You need a couple of things to negotiate well. First, you need to know your bottom line – the boundaries you are unwilling or unable to move beyond no matter what the other side offers. You must be willing to walk away if those boundaries are crossed. You also have to be realistic about where to draw those boundaries and let the other side know when they’re asking you to cross them and why. It’s no place for dogma. If you don’t have a real reason and just want to “win,” you’ll lose.

Second, you need a vision of what the possible end result might be. You need to consider solutions with an open mind. Finally, you need to sit on the same side of the table as the person with whom you’re negotiating. I don’t mean physically. I mean you need to convey a positive message – if we work together, we might find some solution that addresses all of our concerns. We are partners in solving a problem.

I’ve had deals fall through during negotiation but they’re the exception. I’ve also had partners not live up to the contracts they signed for various reasons. That’s more common and generally because they weren’t thinking long-term when they signed the deal. What’s your experience been?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Engineers And Lawyers

Techcrunch published a piece yesterday that caught my attention because I think it hits a proverbial nail right on the head. It dealt with the topic of fake news but I think it has important things to say to any of us in business as well. To quote the piece, “The real problem isn’t fake news; it’s that people have given up on that search for truth.” It’s a topic we’ve touched on here many times but I really like how the author – Jon Evans – explains to two different mentalities under which many of us operate these days.

I still tend to come at the world with what he calls an engineer’s mentality. I look at the information in front of me, seek out as much new information as I can, and adjust my thinking even if what I find contradicts what I believed previously. Whether you think of that as an engineer or a scientist or just being an adult, it seemed as if most of the people I knew operated under a similar paradigm.

He goes on to make the point that most people today operate instead with a lawyer’s mentality. You pick a side (generally based upon who is your client!), and then sort through all the available information, picking and choosing that which supports your side while discarding (at best) or belittling (at worst) that which doesn’t. In other words, many of us approach the world with what can be a fatal case of confirmation bias.

Many of my closest friends in the world are lawyers. In their personal lives, most of them actually tend not to bring their professional mentality to their personal thinking. That said, what’s wrong with the lawyer’s point of view? Simple. That one-sided analysis of the “facts” will be offset in front of a decision-maker – a judge and/or jury – by the other, equally biased set of facts presented by the opposing counsel. In business (and life), we generally have to weigh ALL the information ourselves and do the best we can with respect to sorting out the truth or the best course of action. We need to be our own opposing counsel if you will.

We need to think like scientists. It’s fine to have a point of view or an initial hypothesis, but we really need to apply the scientific method in our business laboratories and validate our thinking. Not all data are meaningful or even truthful. Neither are all the things we hear from coworkers. Do your research, form your own opinions. Given where we are as a country, it might not hurt each of us to think about our thinking and how we go about forming our non-business opinions too, don’t you think?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Mything The Mark

Our Foodie Friday topic this week is myths. Specifically, I want us to consider a conversation I had with someone about one of my favorite topics: barbecue. There are many misconceptions about barbecue and one of them revolves around the topic of my conversation: the smoke ring. If you’ve ever had great ‘cue you’ve encountered the pink ring that lives on the edge of the meat.

Photo by Aziz Acharki

To the uninitiated, there is a concern that the meat is still somehow raw (why would the outside be raw when the inside is cooked?) but of course it’s actually a chemical reaction caused by some of the components in the smoke interacting with the meat (the myoglobin for you scientists out there). The person with whom I was speaking said it’s a great way to judge quality as well as if it’s “true ‘cue” – smoked over wood since you don’t get a ring when the meat is “smoked” over a propane unit. This, of course, is a myth. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve actually cooked some barbecue that looked beautiful – great bark, fabulous smoke ring – that was dry as a bone. Great Instagram material but lousy supper.

In fact, it’s possible to fake the smoke ring. All you need is some curing salt that contains sodium nitrite. Sprinkle it on the meat, cook it in an oven and there is a “smoke ring”. You can read all about it in this lengthy piece. My point is that it’s a food myth that a smoke ring is an indicator of quality in barbecue.

That’s not the only food myth, obviously. Eggs don’t contribute to high cholesterol, MSG doesn’t cause headaches in most of us, you don’t really sleep better after a nightcap before retiring, spicy foods don’t cause ulcers and drinking milk doesn’t increase mucus production when you have a cold. I’ll bet you’ve heard every one of those myths though. You’ve probably heard a bunch of business myths too.

You don’t have to be first to be successful – look at Amazon or eBay, neither of which was the first of their type. You don’t have to be the cheapest option in a category. Ask Lexus, Apple, Nordstroms or many others. Profit isn’t the most important thing (cash flow is!). And of course, my favorite: failing is bad. I’d argue the opposite – failing is almost mandatory on the path to success and is generally a good thing.

Don’t believe everything you hear or read. Sometimes it’s just one of those myths rearing its ugly head. Do your homework – find the facts. After all, we’re lucky to be living in a time when fact-finding has never been easier. Of course, there’s never been so much fake garbage to cull either!

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Filed under food, Reality checks

Gurus And Ninjas

Happy Valentine’s Day! I know it’s supposed to be a day for love but I want to focus on something I don’t love: gurus. OK, it’s not just gurus. It’s ninjas, wizards, mavens, and other self-proclaimed experts. I’m sick of them and, more importantly, I’m wary of the damage they cause. Let me explain and maybe I can bring you over to the dark side.

First, let me be clear about whom I speak. Generally, these are people who seem to spend a hell of a lot more time explaining how great they are at something rather than actually doing anything worth noting. Their professional profiles use words like ninja. I did a quick search and came up with over 60,000 results for that word on LinkedIn. Do any of them know what a ninja actually is? According to Wikipedia, it’s a

mercenary in feudal Japan. The functions of the ninja included espionagesabotageinfiltrationassassination and guerrilla warfare.[1] Their covert methods of waging irregular warfare were deemed dishonorable and beneath the samurai, who observed strict rules about honor and combat.

I’m not sure any businessperson wants to hire a dishonorable assassin but I could be wrong. Yes, I get that the meaning of words changes over time but if you mean to say you’re an expert, say it. Maybe they can’t because they’re not really experts at anything other than self-promotion.

Speaking of misused, overused job titles, let’s move on to “maven.” A maven is an expert, actually a “trusted expert in a particular field, who seeks to pass timely and relevant knowledge on to others in the respective field.” The key words here are “trust” and “expert.” I’ve checked out a few “mavens” and when well over 75% of their social followers are fake and they’ve been in their field of practice for under 5 years, I think they’re neither trustworthy nor experts.

We all have personal brands. Some of us work very diligently at getting that brand out there and others of us do great work and hope that work speaks for itself. I’ll admit that I probably should have done more self-promotion over the years although in my defense there weren’t the opportunities to do it on one’s own as there are now. I still rely on clients to bring me other clients and on readers of the screed to do the same. I try to connect with people I know and respect, focusing on quality.

Does any of this make me a guru? A maven? A freakin’ ninja? Nope. I’m just a guy who’s been at this for longer than most of the self-promoters have been alive and who has already made most of the mistakes they’re going to make, probably using someone else’s business to do so. Is it self-promotion to say I’ve already learned from the mistakes they’re going to make so they won’t happen in the first place?

If you’re a guru, act like one. Be the one who dispels the darkness and takes towards the light. Be a counselor and an inspiration. A ninja? Not so much.

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?