Category Archives: Thinking Aloud

Learning And Doing

I’m in training now to expand my consulting practice. I’ll have more about what exactly that means in another week or so, once I’ve officially completed training and can begin working with clients. The training has been two or sometimes three 90-minute training sessions a day for the last week or so. It’s pretty intensive, and while much of it isn’t highly technical and involves some business knowledge that’s common to what I’ve learned working in other areas over the years, it’s still a lot. I’m enjoying it, in part because it’s been quite a while since I’ve had to absorb this much information about a topic that is totally new to me. Always good to get those old synapses firing, isn’t it?

One thing it’s reminded of is the difference between learning and doing. Maybe I should phrase that as knowing and doing, but they’re different. In any event, one is certainly not the other. I can explain to you the elements of a great golf swing and I can probably point out what in your swing is causing you problems. I know what a good swing looks like. Can I perform one myself? Oh hell no. I’m a great caddy – I can club you correctly and discuss strategy. Can I hit the shot I’m describing? Not consistently well.

That’s knowing vs. doing. Learning vs. doing is having the information as I now do about this new business area but really nothing more. I can tell you the rules, I can tell you the best practices, I can even tell you the mistakes you’re likely to make. What I can’t do is to give you any first-hand experience nor any nuance nor anything particularly insightful from that which you could get from anyone else. That last part is where any of us add value to what is, in essence, a textbook view of the world. A kid coming out of graduate school with an MBA (yes, 28-year-olds are now “kids” to me) has a ton of education and knows an awful lot but they have very little experience. The good ones that I’ve worked with know that and are anxious to add to their education by doing. The less good one think they already know it all thanks to their learning.

I know I can be effective in my expanded area right away although I’ll be even more effective as time passes and I learn the things one only learns by doing. Part of why we see some problems in the business world, particularly in the tech world, is that we have CEO’s who got to those jobs by being founders. They don’t have real-world experience because they’ve not done the series of jobs and learned from each that traditionally gets one into a CEO chair. Without a bunch of doing, a little learning can be a dangerous thing, don’t you think?

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Wanting And Needing

If you hang around the candy aisle of the supermarket long enough, I can pretty much guarantee you that you’ll hear some kid yell at their parent that they “need it” with a large bag of candy in their hand. At that moment, I think the kid believes it. Hopefully, the parent explains the difference between “needing” and “wanting”. Hopefully, that’s something you can recognize in your business life too.

A need is something you must have to survive. As humans, water, food, and shelter are about the extent of those needs (I put clothing and warmth under the shelter heading). As a business, the fundamental need is to make a profit. Without that, no business can survive over the long term. In order to make those profits, you need money coming in, which means you also need customers who will pay you for your product or service. As with any need, once we have satisfied it we can move on to the “want.” You want customers who are happy so they stick around. You want customers who are pleasant so you can interact with them without drama. You need to have people working with you who are loyal and knowledgeable so they support your customers. You want them to stick around for the long term at a reasonable cost to the business.

The hard part for me when I began consulting was that I think I probably spent too much effort helping clients get the wants and not enough time focused on the needs. Rookie mistake, one I don’t make now. I’m not surprised when a client and I get into the need/want discussion and there is a bit of a disconnect. With early-stage companies especially, you have to get the needs shored up.

I try to focus on telling clients what they need to hear, which is not necessarily what they want to hear (see what I did there?). I did the same when I was part of a larger organization, sometimes to my detriment, I’ll admit. I did learn that the people who can hear things that are true but sometimes unpleasant are the ones with whom you want to work. They have learned that the bag of candy is a want, but those wants might not be affordable or necessary. They might even be detrimental. Make sense?

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud

What, Me Worry?

If you follow the TV business at all you’ve probably noticed a bunch of recent articles about the acceleration of the cord-cutting phenomenon. This article from Business Insider is typical, as are the results:

In a recent Business Insider survey of 104 teens nationwide, only 2% of Gen Zs said that cable is their most-used choice for video content. Nearly a third said YouTube is their most-used source for video content, and 62% say streaming excluding YouTube, including Netflix or Hulu, is their most-used.

What’s happening is that many younger folks who once purchased a cable TV subscription are no longer doing so, and the pace at which that’s happening is rising quickly. As one piece noted,  “roughly 5.4 million Americans are expected to cut the TV cord this year, thanks largely to the rise in cheaper, more flexible streaming TV alternatives.” Is that significant? Oh yes:

According to eMarketer’s latest figures, the number of cord-cutters—adults who have ever canceled pay-TV service and continue without it—will climb 32.8% this year to 33.0 million. That’s higher than the 22.0% growth rate (27.1 million) projected in July 2017.

That’s a lot of money leaving the building, and yet there doesn’t seem to be widespread panic among the cable providers. Why not? Because they people who are cutting the cable cord are locking themselves into the broadband cord, and that, dead readers, is an even better deal for the cable guys. Why? Well, think about your own situation. I’ve got two options for TV service here – one cable, one satellite. Neither is appreciably different. The satellite is a bit less expensive but service craps out in bad weather so although it has some unique content and 4K, it’s not perfect. If I decide to cut the cord and take some TV over the air and stream the rest, I have only ONE option to get true broadband service, and that’s how most US markets are as well.

How this came to be is laid out in this Techdirt piece and I won’t repeat what they have to say. The short answer is that natural monopolies have developed and they’re not going to go away. Even if some company tries to enter the market (as Google Fiber did), the time to build the service is lengthy. Laws have been passed to prevent municipalities from entering the market and providing competition as well.

Given my druthers, I’d rather be a broadband provider than a cable TV provider. Your programming costs are almost non-existent, you know a lot more about how your customer is using the service (your ISP knows all, your cable TV guy is just figuring out how to track you accurately), your margins are great, and you probably won’t have any competition despite lousy customer service and usage caps. Who are the big broadband providers? Yep, the same cable guys who are “suffering” from cord cutting. You think they’re worried?

Leave a comment

Filed under Huh?, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Finding The Black Swan

Many centuries ago, people were convinced that there were no such things as black swans. That thinking is so old, in fact, that there are references to it in Roman literature. That thinking was disproven around 1700 when a group of explorers sighted some black swans in Australia.

Since then, the term “black swan” is used to refer to something that, as Wikipedia states:

comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.

If you’re in business, I’m sure you’re familiar with black swans even if you’ve never called them by that name. My team often used the Monty Python quote that “NO-body expects the Spanish Inquisition!” when something surprising would happen.

I don’t think of Black Swans as negatives, necessarily. In fact, it’s exactly the sort of rare bird we should be seeking in business on many levels. For example, you’ve read many times in this space about the need to understand your customer. If you’re approaching them with an open mind, what you might find can be surprising. You might find, say, that your ad that’s aspirational in nature might have the exact opposite effect on your audience – it reminds them of what they don’t have and makes them mad.

Where I find Black Swans particularly useful is in negotiating. It’s critical to understand the needs and wants of the person with whom you’re negotiating and to get on the same side of the desk as they are, meaning you’re not in an adversarial position. In the process of doing that discovery, you often find a Black Swan – something you didn’t know about them or about something that’s part of their bottom line for the negotiation. Every party in a negotiation has a bottom line – things they can’t or won’t give up – while other things are far more fungible. Unless and until you can understand what those things are, you’re wasting time. If you find a Black Swan in the process, it’s important that you incorporate it unless it crosses your bottom line.

Part of finding the Black Swan is keeping an open mind, whether it’s in negotiating or in reading data or even in a brainstorming session. Be open to possibilities even if they don’t match your current understanding of the world. The Black Seans are out there – find them!

Leave a comment

Filed under Thinking Aloud

Conducting

Did you play in your school’s band or orchestra? Maybe you sang in the chorus? I did all of those as well as in the school’s jazz band. If you did, you came face to face with a conductor. For those of you unfamiliar with how a conductor operates, I’ll spend a few words on the topic. For those of you already familiar, please keep reading because those hours spent under their baton can tell you a lot about business.

Whether you played in an ensemble or just listened, you’ve seen a conductor at work. Their right hand, usually the one holding the baton, keeps time. Their left hand, the far more expressive one, serves many purposes; among them cueing various instruments, helping the musicians understand the dynamic you want to project or the phrasing you’re after.

One of my childhood memories is of seeing Leonard Bernstein conducting the NY Philharmonic. He conducted the orchestra in a way that was a cross between dancing as a listener and working hard as a musician. There is no doubt, if you watch old videos of him, what he is trying the get from his musicians. That’s not true of all conductors.

What you probably never thought of is how anticipatory conducting really is. It begins in rehearsal, where the conductor will often stop and explain what he or she is after. The musicians are learning what each gesture means and they get a sense of the speed and phrasing the conductor wants. It’s assumed the musicians already know the notes and heaven help the musician who causes the conductor to stop and demand the musician play a phrase the conductor heard as wrong. It also means the conductor is a few beats ahead of his musicians so he can cue them, hopefully in a way that also tells them how he wants the upcoming music played.

What does this have to do with business? A lot. I always looked at my role as being similar to an orchestra leader. My job was to bring coherence to a large, diverse group of executives who played very different roles. I kept time with one hand, meaning that I set goals for the entire group and established how we’d get there. With the other hand, I let individual elements within the group know when to speak up. Most importantly, we rehearsed. No, I didn’t have my group do things just for the sake of doing them. I did, however, ask them a lot of questions to make sure they knew the music and that when it came time for them to be front and center they would shine. I was careful to be clear about what I wanted and about what I meant when I asked for something. I was also a few beats ahead at all times.

Watch some of the great conductors. Bernstein, Loren Maazel, Seiji Ozawa, and others. There are some great business lessons there, don’t you think?

Leave a comment

Filed under Music, Thinking Aloud

Mageirocophobia

It’s Foodie Friday and today we’re going to address what for some people is a debilitating problem: mageirocophobia. I know – how can I think about something I can’t even pronounce? Well, hopefully, it’s not something you think about at all, but it might just get you thinking about something that goes on in your business life, so read on.

Mageirocophobia is the fear of cooking. Yes, such a thing exists. It can take many forms and even experienced cooks might have a little of it. For some folks, they’re fine cooking for themselves but the thought of cooking for a large group – a party, a large family gathering – can become a problem. Maybe that’s when they opt for a caterer, telling themselves that they’ll be busy preparing the house when in fact they’re afraid of failing. For some people, they’re afraid to cook for others or their children, worried that they’ll poison them by serving undercooked food. In other cases, it’s a simple fear that what they’ll serve will be inedible, or at least bad enough to cause ridicule. Some people are just afraid of the entire process – sharp knives and hot pans can cause cuts and burns (I know that from personal experience!).

As with most fears, a fear of cooking is really a reflection of other things going on such as a strong need for approval or a fear of failure. It can cause people to do odd things such as never serving chicken to guests or insisting on overcooking pork. Some people I know are terrified by sharp knives and the blades in their kitchens are always dull which, as any good cook knows, causes more accidents than sharp knives do.

Some of us do the same thing in business. A decade ago I wrote a post that asked each of us to consider if our fears in business are rational? Fear of failing is not irrational but it can be debilitating. We listen to the negative voice in our head that tells us we can’t do something and we’ll be a laughingstock when we fail. We play it safe. We take the safe route and don’t push to scale quickly, avoiding new markets or products. Ultimately, as with the fearful cook, we miss out on pleasure as we avoid pain.

I’ve made my share of mistakes in both the kitchen and the office. I try to learn from each one and move on. We all have a bit of fear in new and difficult situations – we’d not be human if we didn’t. We need, however, to push through our fears if we’re ever going to achieve our goals, don’t you agree?

Leave a comment

Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Foodie Friday After The Fourth

While in theory today is a workday, I’m pretty sure most folks have continued the July 4th holiday straight through. In the spirit of being as lazy as the rest of you relaxing over this lovely break, I’m reporting a Foodie Friday post from a past holiday weekend. It was Memorial Day of 2008 (yes, I’ve been at this that long) and what I wrote then still makes sense to me. How about to you?

This weekend sees the celebration of the Memorial Day holiday here is the US. Traditionally, this weekend marks the start of Summer (OK, maybe that’s July 4th but I love Summer, so…) and that means it’s time to fire up the smoker. While one can achieve great BBQ on everything from a Weber kettle to rigs costing thousands, my preferred weapon of choice is the Bandera, which used to be made by The New Braunfels Company.English: Image of a propane smoker in use. Dia...

We had a bunch of folks over to enjoy ribs, smoked turkey, beer can chicken, the odd bit of smoked bratwurst (I couldn’t find a Hebrew National baloney to smoke which, as an aside, is the closest thing I know of to meat candy when spiced and smoked). The thing they all were wondering about was why does good “Q” take so long. Those of you with a love of smoked meat know that “low and slow is the way to go” and that getting the temperature in the smoker above 225 F is a formula for shoe leather.

Which, of course, got me thinking about how many people seem to do business today. Just as one cannot make BBQ in the microwave, fixing problems via the proverbial microwave for a quick fix is, in my mind, not getting you where you need to go. Now, some folks insist on cooking ribs for 8 hours; I think I’ve proven you can have damn good results in 3.5 – 4. However, I am talking about using the right tools, taking the right amount of time, and, if you can, using the guidance of someone who has been there before (I ruined a lot of racks and quite a few briskets in my day until I got it figured out).

There is a Slow food Movement of which you may be aware and I love what they have to say. However, sometimes you’re late for work and DO need to toast that Pop-Tart and go (eeew). Sometimes problems won’t wait. But I think many operations would be a lot better off if they made the quick fix the exception rather than the rule.

And now I’m off to enjoy some leftovers!

Leave a comment

Filed under food, Thinking Aloud