Category Archives: Thinking Aloud

Circular Firing Squads

One thing that used to amaze me without fail was when a room full of intelligent people would form a circular firing squad and shoot away. OK, so it’s not literally true, but you know what I mean and you’ve probably been in one or more of these situations yourself.

Photo by Holger Link

It happens when someone surfaces an idea or an argument that deviates from the conventional wisdom or thinking on an issue. Instead of evaluating the new thinking on its merits, people start taking potshots at one another. They should be united against a common “enemy” – the competition, for example, or a big problem. Instead, they attack one another.

I’m not really sure how one combats this. I always used to raise ideas along with all of the flaws inherent in what I was espousing. By showing that I understood the weaknesses in my thinking I was also showing that I could be balanced and not delusional enough to think that every idea I had was gold. What I was hoping for was for others to focus on the good parts of my thinking instead of spending time trying to surface the problems because I had already done that.

Whenever possible, I’d draw pictures of some sort – Venn diagrams, flow charts, whatever – because I believe that pictures are more easily understood, even those drawn by a person with zero artistic ability (me). The goal was always to get the team standing back to back, rifles pointed out at the problem and away from pointing inward at one another.

Creating an environment where new ideas flourish is one of the biggest management challenges. Keeping the team focused on the big goals and not on taking pot shots at one another to further their personal goals is another one. What’s above are some of the ways I do that. How do you do that?

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Hitting Curves

My friend posted a picture of his father on social media the other day. Outside of my own father, he was probably the most influential male in my life as I was growing up in many ways. Aside from wondering why he’s aged and I haven’t as I saw the photo (that’s a joke, kids), it made me recall one thing that he did to teach my friend and me to be better baseball players: hitting curveballs.

My friend’s dad was no ordinary dad when it came to imparting that little piece of baseball knowledge either. He had tried out with the Yankees and the family lore is that had my friend’s mom not told him that she would walk on the marriage, he would have been signed and playing in Yankee Stadium. Obviously, when this guy tells you he’s going to teach you about curveballs, you listen.

For those of you that have never stood in against a pitcher with a lively curve, the pitch starts by heading at your head and breaks down and away from you. That’s what my friend’s father threw at us – pitches that started at our heads and broke in over the plate. Of course, once he felt we were getting complacent about standing in against the curve, he’d toss the odd pitch right at our heads to teach us to look for the rotation of the ball and to duck if it wasn’t going to curve. A fastball at your skull gets you focused very quickly!

Almost every player who makes the majors can hit fastballs. It’s the ones who can hit breaking pitches – sliders and curveballs – who become stars. It’s true in business as well. When things are going along according to plan and not diverging from the track they’re on, things are relatively easy to manage. Even if something appears dangerous (like a fastball heading for your ear) it’s relatively easy to get out of the way if you can see where things are heading.

Learning to hit business curveballs is something that you need to do if you’re going to elevate your game. You need to prepare for them by planning and recognizing that they’re going to show up from time to time. Your team needs to be ready, and you need to think about who can handle curveballs as you’re assembling that team.  People who are regimented and can’t deal with it when events start tracking differently are probably not your priority hires.

Mostly, you need to expect things to go wrong. After bailing out and hitting the dirt a couple of times, I realized that some attempted curveballs don’t break even when the rotation makes it look like they’re trying. It’s better to have to wash your uniform than to repair your skull. Your team needs to recognize that bailing out might be the smartest option when things begin to go awry. Watch out for those curves, learn to hit them out of the park, and your team can’t be beaten. Right?

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Filed under Consulting, Growing up, Thinking Aloud

Something Could Be Gaining

I was watching TV last night and on came a commercial break. There were 5 commercials in this pod along with a couple of promo spots for the network I was watching. When the pod was over, something dawned on me and that has prompted today’s thought.

Not one of the five companies that were advertising was in business a decade ago. Every single one of them was digitally-based and every single one of them was disrupting an existing business sector.

There was an online realtor who would buy or sell you a house without using a local agent. There was the online employment site that would find you a job and serve as your headhunter. There was a site that would pack your pills into individual doses and mail them to you, no trip to the pharmacists needed. The next company would book your next vacation and notify you if now was not the optimal time to book.

I wonder, a decade ago, if the pharmacists thought that they would be threatened by a company that could fill prescriptions in a way no drug store could and at prices that are reflective of their no physical outlet cost structure? Why bother going on interviews with headhunters when you can post your resume and let the algorithm find you interested employers? Why spend on a recruiter when you can have candidates screened electronically and only see the best?

Satchel Paige is quoted as reminding us “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” I think that’s optimistic. If you are in any business these days, something IS gaining on you and they may be the advertisers whose commercials you watch as they go by. Disruption is a fact of business life and unless you’re thinking about how your business could be replaced, you’re missing the boat.

Make sense?

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Filed under digital media, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Every Day Is April Fools

How many head-scratching headlines have you seen today? Google’s Files app now cleans your phone screen from the inside? Guy Fieri has been brought in to cater the Champions’ Dinner at the Masters? Roku announced a remote designed to be dog-friendly?

None of those things are true, of course. They’re just three of this year’s batch of April Fool’s jokes that seem to run rampant across the interwebs. Actually, HelloFresh’s announcement of a Unicorn Box, which they say is a “brand new, first-of-its-kind experience will let you eat like a mythical creature. Brush away the confetti to find a box full of farm-fresh rainbows, smiles, and joy right at your doorstep” sounds kind of yummy. It’s so obviously silly that you can ignore it safely. Others, like the Google video of the screen cleaner, are close enough to plausible to have you wondering if they’re a joke or a scientific breakthrough.

So you’re probably dialing up your BS detector as you surf around the digital world today. You probably have seen odd announcements from your friends on social media saying they’re leaving their jobs or investing in gold mines. You know they’re kidding but there is an excellent reminder in all of this.

Every day is April Fool’s Day. There is an awful lot of made-up garbage floating around out there and if we’re not skeptics we’re going to have the proverbial wool pulled over our eyes. Unfortunately, it’s rarely as obvious when something is fake the other 364 days of the year. Check facts using reputable fact-checking sites. Ask yourself who has an interest in what I’m reading being the truth and how does it affect them if it’s not? Read and listen carefully. What’s not being said? Does it seem as if a fine line is being walked with how the words are chosen and phrased?

If you can’t dazzle them with the facts, baffle them with your BS is my paraphrasing of the old W.C. Fields quote (he used brilliance instead of facts).  You need to remember that more people and businesses think that way than you’d expect. Make every day April Fool’s when it comes to picking up what they’re putting down. Make sense?

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

I Think We Failed

I’ve been doing “digital” as a business since the mid-1990s. Back then it was a bunch of walled gardens that featured mostly text-only content. Those gardens also suddenly made email widely available and I, like many, was really optimistic about the potential the coming digital world would hold in terms of communication and information. The Information Age was dawning, right?

The walls came down from around those gardens and the open internet bloomed. Soon everyone had email and nearly everyone began spending time catching up with old school chums and distant family via this thing called social media. Every content provider had a website, and many people would read the newspaper or a magazine off of a screen rather than off a sheet of paper in their hands. Video soon entered the mix as the pipes got bigger and the devices faster. Today pretty much everyone carries a powerful computer/communications tool/web device in their pockets and are connected non-stop. Technology has become ubiquitous, just as many folks envisioned.

Except that we failed. Social media is anti-social. Many of my friends and I suspect of yours spend hours arguing about things they have little or no ability to change. Of more concern is that their arguments are often based on sketchy facts that they found in their digital travels. Kids sitting at the same table don’t look at one another and would rather Snapchat one another than talk face to face. We don’t have relationships with people because relationships need to have a face-to-face component in my opinion. If you believe what you see in your news feeds, everyone’s life is fabulous and fun yet we know everyone has the same problems from time to time. Their kids aren’t perfect, their meals aren’t all perfect-looking, almost everyone has worries of some sort (yes, non-political ones!), and not every day is spent traveling to exotic locations.

I think we failed. I don’t think most of us appreciated the dangers inherent in the overuse of technology until the last couple of years. We’ve become less social, less open to thinking that doesn’t mirror our own, and too connected to the screen world in front of us while we’re disconnecting from the fabulous world beyond our screens. We’ve learned to code and we’ve not learned history. We go to concerts and watch them through a screen while shooting a video instead of losing ourselves in the music. We text our kids to come to dinner and don’t make them put down the phone and talk, mostly because we’re catching up on our own social streams.

I don’t know if I have a point today because I don’t know that this is “fixable.” We live in a world of surveillance capitalism and the companies that profit from it not only aren’t going to go away any time soon but are aggregating into a very few behemoths that know everything about us. What have we done?

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It’s Corned Beef Time!

I’m reposting last year’s Foodie Friday post from St. Patrick’s Day. If you’re not following the calendar, Sunday marks the annual celebration of all things Irish and Corned Beef and Cabbage is certainly one of them. As you’ll read below, that’s weird because it’s about as Irish as I am. In any event, I’ve had a busy day preceded by a busy week so I’m off to do something very appropriate to the holiday: hit my local watering hole. Enjoy the weekend, enjoy the holiday, and be safe and make good choices.

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, Thinking Aloud

Getting It Done At Home

I had my last job in corporate America in 2007. What that means is that for the last 11+ years I’ve been working on my own out of a home office. I suspect, given the way the business world has changed over the last decade, that many of you are in the same situation. Maybe you elected to spend a few bucks on a desk at some co-working space and while that’s fine, this post isn’t really for you. It’s for those of us who absolutely could stay in our PJ’s propped up in bed with a laptop all day and no one would be any the wiser.

I will admit that I’ve done exactly that. I’ll also tell you that it really isn’t the optimal thing to do if you want to be productive. I have a few other thoughts about getting it done while working at home and I thought I’d share them with you today. What brought this on is that I’ve had many candidates looking at home-based businesses and I usually try at some point to tell them how different it is to work from home.

First, the one thing you MUST do is to pick up the telephone. While email is a great way to communicate about some things, you miss the nuance that human interaction brings. Moreover, it’s fun! Human interaction is great! When I started doing franchise consulting and found myself on the phone almost constantly, I realized how much I missed that. Very early in my career (long before email) I spent hours cold calling and setting up meetings. Phone time decreased over the years until when I was working at home it was barely part of what I did. Don’t be a monk: use the phone.

Take breaks. I believe in the 20-20-20 rule for your eyes (look away from the screen at something 20 feet away every 20 minutes) but it’s also important that you mirror the brief interruptions you usually get working in a corporate office. Be sure you eat (not over your keyboard!).  Take a walk. Spend an hour hitting golf balls. Do something not work-related so you don’t drive yourself crazy, which it’s easy to do when there isn’t anyone else around to distract you.

Don’t feel guilty when you run errands or do other things that you couldn’t do if you were still in the corporate world. There are many downsides to working on your own and at home. The freedom to use your time as you see fit is one of them.

Finally, if you have space, really set up a dedicated room as an office. Besides providing a tax deduction, it’s always made me feel like the professional that I am. I’m writing this in my home office which has the same sort of stuff on the wall as I had in my corporate offices.  It feels like I’m at work. Having the dedicated space also reminds me that I’m off work when I walk into the rest of the house and I should behave that way.

How do you get it done at home? Any tips of your own that you’d like to share?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud