Monthly Archives: May 2020

It’s Greek To Me

When I sang in the chorus in college we performed Brahms’ German Requiem. As you can deduce from the title, it’s in German. I really enjoyed singing it but I really didn’t understand much of what I was singing about since my reading comprehension of German is practically nonexistent. That didn’t stop me from singing the words, quite loudly when necessary, even if their meaning escaped me.

I see the same thing going on all the time, both in business and in life. These days, when science discussion is all around us due to the pandemic I’m fascinated by the folks who suddenly are virologists. Maybe they read a scientific paper about what’s going on or, more probably, read a link on Facebook that pointed them to something with a lot of big words. It’s nice that they read the science papers but when you have a conversation with them about it, it becomes pretty clear that they have no clue about what it means.

You can see that in business. Someone reads an article on something¬† – the efficacy of social media or the importance of influencers in marketing – and suddenly they’re an expert. The truth is that they don’t understand the details of the topic in a way that gives them the ability to discuss them out of context. They’ve done a great job memorizing but a lousy job in grasping meaning.

I used to tell consulting clients the truth about my knowledge base. I was a mile wide but in some areas, I was only an inch deep. It didn’t embarrass me nor should it disturb you. I think a sign of both maturity and intelligence is knowing what you don’t know and not being afraid to admit it. When a client got to the limits of my understanding I would either go broaden my understanding or I’d bring in someone more expert.

You can sing in a language that you don’t understand just as you can pronounce the words on a page if you have a pronunciation guide. That doesn’t mean a thing in business. We say something is “Greek to me” when we don’t understand it. Try and speak Greek without understanding and the minute someone asks you a question, you’re sunk. Don’t try to speak a language you don’t understand, Greek, German, virology, digital media, or otherwise. Make sense?

Leave a comment

Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Having An Abundance Of Talent And Failing

Foodie Friday! I’ll caution you that there are some Top Chef spoilers ahead so if you’ve not watched last night’s Restaurant Wars episode, you might want to come back later. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Top Chef and the pinnacle of every season is when the chefs divide into two teams for restaurant wars. Last night’s episode, which resulted in the elimination of one of the more talented chefs (who is also a fan-favorite) reminded me of a great business point.

As the chefs divided up into teams, it was very obvious that one team had four of the best chefs left in the competition. Several were James Beard Award winners, all have opened successful restaurants (several of them have multiple restaurants), and because this season is an All-Star competition, a few had advanced to the Top Chef finals in previous seasons. The other team had talent but if Vegas was setting a betting line on which team would win restaurant wars, there was no question which team would be the favorite.

When the smoke cleared and judgment had been rendered, the favorites lost and it wasn’t really close. The other team’s food was better executed, their service was more organized, and the menu was more inspired. All of that raises the point that talent alone isn’t the determining factor for success, which is our business point today.

What was evident watching the teams prepare their food was that the losing team was disorganized. They each knew what dishes they were making but other than the chef leading the team, none of them seemed to understand why the menu was the way it was nor how the flavors needed to complement one another. Teams that do well depend on an understanding of roles as well as tasks to avoid clashing, overlapping, or conflicting.

Chef Kevin, who was in charge of the team, designed a meal to be served family-style, with many dishes exiting the kitchen at once. While that works when you’re serving your own family, having to serve a full restaurant put an amazing amount of pressure on the kitchen, and not surprisingly, the service was incredibly slow. They needed to turn over tables in an hour but this style of service took longer and patrons were sitting for 90 minutes, which resulted in a backed-up restaurant. It’s nice to have a vision but had Kevin considered the team’s ability to execute his ambitious vision multiple times an hour, he might have altered his plan. That might have been the result of overconfidence, which often is a problem for the very talented. When you believe that you are unbeatable and that your successes will continue, you can get sloppy, lose concentration, or in the worst cases, slip into arrogance. Was there some of that last night? Just maybe.

Bad communication can often lie at the root of why talented teams fail but that seemed OK in the kitchen. However, the front of house staff wasn’t properly briefed because Kevin wasn’t thinking about that task and never told the chef whose job it was to do the briefing to stop what they were doing and get to the front of the house. It’s never enough to have a great plan. Without great execution, you’re lost.

I wouldn’t say the better team won. I’d say the team that executed better won. Their vision was more simple, their product was innovative, and most importantly, they maximized the talent they had. It’s something to think about as you’re working with your team, right?

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, food

Be Good To Yourself

I received a very disappointing email yesterday. I mean, in the scheme of the global crisis we’re facing, it’s a nit but it was disappointing nevertheless. It came from Ticketmaster letting me know that one of the shows to which I had tickets was being canceled. I’ve had several postponed already but this one was now completely off the board. Boo.

The show was Journey and the opening act was The Pretenders. Now before you comment on my musical taste being stuck somewhere in the late 1980s, let me say that I saw Journey a year or so ago (with Def Leppard) and it was a phenomenal show. I’ve not seen The Pretenders in probably close to 30 years and being able to hear them live again was a huge bonus. Maybe next summer.

It did get me thinking about a Journey song, however, that I think is a good reminder to us all these days. It’s called “Be Good To Yourself” and it starts out describing a situation many of us might be in as we’re staying home and trying to work (or find work) as best we can:

Running out of self-control
Getting close to an overload
Up against a no-win situation

Here’s the video – I picked one that features Steve Perry singing and check out Randy Jackson’s haircut!

The song reminds us to be good to ourselves. I forget to do that sometimes and maybe you do too. Maybe you put a lot of pressure on yourself to be as productive as you were before all of this. That’s crazy talk. No one should expect themselves to be superhuman and deliver the same 100% rate of output during a global pandemic and a lockdown.

We all have worries during this time. Maybe it’s a fear of getting sick. Maybe it’s even more real than that prospect because you’ve lost your job and are depleting your savings. Maybe your health insurance is ending because you’re unemployed. When we have issues that lie at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy, there is no question that we put pressure on ourselves to solve the problem. You feel overwhelmed by a lack of control. I get it and I’m not minimizing it.

But you still need to take some time each day and be good to yourself. You didn’t create this situation. You’re not to blame. That can be taking the time you now have to walk each day and clear your head. Maybe you make a list of the things you really enjoy and do one every day. Maybe you call a friend to whom you’ve not spoken in a while. The key is not to beat yourself up over the situation. Negative self-talk just digs a deeper hole.

So I’ll shut up and let you think about how you’ll be good to yourself today. OK?

Leave a comment

Filed under Music, Reality checks