Category Archives: What’s Going On

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

Snowing Our Ignorance

It’s snowing here in Central North Carolina. Again. Is that unusual? Well, the area usually gets less than 6 inches of snow a year and we’re about to get 4 or so. We also got a few inches several weeks ago. When we got a dusting (and to my Yankee friends I know that 6 inches are pretty much just a dusting) of snow last year – maybe half an inch – the area came to a complete halt and schools were shut for 4 days. You can imagine what 4 inches will do. Fortunately, by the weekend it will be near 70 degrees so the accumulation shouldn’t be around very long.

Photo by Catherine Zaidova

Other than venting about the golf courses being covered in white, why do I bring this up? Because it’s symptomatic of something which has business implications. Increased snowfall, extreme temperature changes, and other weather phenomena are indicative of something going on. It’s pretty clear that something has changed and yet there are those who turn a scientific and factual issue into a political one. Folks, you can call it climate change or you can call it Fred but no matter what you call it, it is real.

You know, of course, that we don’t do politics here on the screed and my point isn’t that we need to acknowledge that the weird weather everywhere is the result of climate change. The point is that any businessperson can give their own interpretation about what they see going on in the market and in their own enterprise. The problem is that sometimes their interpretation conflicts with the empirical evidence – the facts. A single data point isn’t a reason to change your entire strategy, but when you have enough data points to produce a reliable trend, attention must be paid.

There are some very famous studies that were conducted by Stanford in 1975. They showed how people’s opinions are often unmoved by facts. One need not go a heck of a lot further than your own Facebook feed to see one person trying to change another’s mind using some fact-based evidence and failing miserably. The cold weather and snow here remind me that you can deny the facts but that denial won’t keep the snow from falling. Question the sources of information, question the interpretation of information, but once those questions are answered, don’t deny the facts. You still will have to shovel up the aftermath regardless. Make sense?

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

50 Years On

As I sat down to write this morning’s screed with Dr. King’s birthday on my mind, I realized that it’s been 50 years since that horrible year of 1968. I was 13 at the time and if you’re younger than about 55 today you probably have no memories of the almost non-stop bad news. It’s hard to believe but things seemed even more screwed up and polarized that they do today. The day Dr. King was shot is one of my indelible memories and the killing of Bobby Kennedy two months later snuffed out a small glimmer of hope that Dr. King’s legacy might come to fruition soon. It took another 40 years for that although there are valid arguments that we as a country are still waiting in many ways.

With that, what follows is my post on celebrating Dr, King and his message from a few years ago. It’s about listening, something many of us don’t do often enough. Maybe you can give it a try this week?

Today is the day we pause to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday.  I went back and looked at my post from two years ago, which was about dreams – specifically one of Dr. King’s dreams becoming a reality.  That was sort of focused on what he saw – his vision.  Today I want to focus on one of the great man’s best qualities that influenced how he acted to make that vision real.  I think it’s applicable to business.  No, it’s not going to be another ethics rant (although those are never out of style in my book).  Today, it’s about the most important skill I think all great businesspeople – and great leaders – possess.

To me, great leaders serve to fulfill the needs of their people.  For Dr. King, it meant endless meetings with various groups to understand their concerns and explain how broadening civil liberties to be more inclusive could help meet them.  For those of us in business, it means paying more attention to the concerns of our customers and co-workers than to our own agenda – these folks ARE our agenda to a certain extent, along with the underlying needs of our businesses.  In a word – listen.

Everyone wants to feel as if their ideas and thoughts are being heard if not acted upon. Without someone hearing them, acting on those concerns is impossible. Listening, then speaking, brings trust.

I know this isn’t a new thought in this space but it came to mind on this day thinking of Dr. King.  If you go back to the early days of Dr. King’s involvement in the civil rights movement, it’s pretty clear that he was a reluctant leader. He was drafted to lead and was kind of unsure of himself.  As he listened to the members of the community and other clergies, he realized that he was simply a voice for the community and their agenda became his agenda.

Many of you will be familiar with Stephen R. Covey, who wrote that we ought to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  I think Dr. King if he read pop-psychology, would have appreciated that.

What are you listening to today?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Growing up, What's Going On

Snow In The South

It snowed here in North Carolina last night. I awoke to find maybe two inches of the white stuff. Having lived almost my entire life in New York and Connecticut, my immediate thoughts were “how pretty” and “no big deal.” Then I remembered where I was. We got what I would call an overnight accumulation here last February (under an inch, seriously), and it closed the schools for four days.

In my mind, there is about a foot/inch ratio which applies to the level of hysteria and inconvenience here. An inch of snow here is the equivalent to a foot up north. The local TV stations have been nothing but the weather for the last day and the excitement in the reporters’ voices as they stand by some highway pointing to a dusting is palpable.

There is, of course, a business thought or two in all of this. One is that of perspective. My perspective on snow is very different from that of my neighbors, most of whom rarely have ever had to deal with it. Don’t let your own perspective corrupt your ability to get inside that of your partners, vendors, and customers.

Next is emergency planning. Despite the rarity of snow here, many of the roads were pre-treated with brine before the snowfall to help keep the roads clear. That means the authorities have both the equipment and the knowledge (brine actually works better than rock salt and is way more cost effective than clearing the snow later) to be proactive. They had a plan. Can you say that you have a plan, the tools you’ll need, and the knowledge required to handle most emergencies that happen in your business?

I’ll probably just hunker down today and let nature take its course. It’s a sunny day with the temperature back above freezing so the snow won’t be here long. Nevertheless, it’s been here long enough to remind me of a couple of business truisms. You?

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Filed under Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

Most Read Of 2017 – #2

Here is not actually the second most read post that was written in 2017. Why not, you ask? Because the second most read was actually published last week. Called  “You’re On Your Own,” I didn’t think I should run it again so soon. You can read it again (or for the first time) here. This next post, actually the third most read, was published on May 24, the day after we sold our family home of the prior 32 years. It provided me with a chance to reflect on both the mixed feelings I had as well as something any of us in business can take away.  Originally called “A Little Bit Better,” I hope it makes your business life just that.

We closed on the sale of Rancho Deluxe yesterday. I lived in that house for 32 years (almost to the day) and it holds a lot of happy memories. The pictures you see are the view from the yard when we moved in and the day we moved out. As you can see, quite a bit changed. While the core of the house is pretty much how we found it, we added on a few times and changed the old kitchen into office space when we built the new kitchen/family room.

The core of the house itself is over 100 years old and, as with most older homes, wasn’t without issues. Over the years we replaced the furnace (twice!), the roof, fixed sills, removed asbestos, and landscaped. There were also hundreds of little fixes and improvements. We did all that without tearing down the original structure as so many in our town have done. We like to think we left it better than we found it.

That’s really the business point. We often get pulled into situations or projects where there is a lot of history that predates you. One approach that many people take is to just blow everything up and to start over. That ignores the good in what’s been done already. It can also cause a backlash from the people who invested their efforts to get things to where they are when you walk in. The challenge, both with old houses and old business situations, is to leave things at least a little bit better than you found them.

That’s not to say that some things are beyond saving. Sometimes a situation is in such disrepair that gutting it and starting over is the prudent and less expensive course of action. I think, however, that we often get more focused on a solution that may be more expedient and different as opposed to better.

Think about the things on which you’re working. Are you making them better or just patching things up so you can cross them off the list? Is the team happy with what’s being built or are you painting things a color that everyone hates but which was on sale at the store?

I’ll miss the old place while at the same time not missing the almost non-stop series of items on the “to-do” list. It protected us from hurricanes, blizzards, countless minor storms, withering heat, and freezing cold. I always felt that we had to protect it a little. I’m walking away knowing it’s better than I found it and hopefully in good hands for the next 32 years. Can you say the same about what you’re doing?

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Filed under Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

Most Read Posts Of 2017 – #3

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas or at least a nice day off! This week I’ll be posting the posts written in 2017 that were read the most. This first one was written last April after I had some sort of a cold (I’d actually forgotten that!). Originally titled “Clear Headed,” it’s a reminder that decisions made under sub-optimal circumstances are often themselves suboptimal (I’m being kind – they usually are horrible). Enjoy!

I’ve been MIA from this space for a few days (hopefully you’ve noticed). I caught some kind of a bug and it pretty much laid me out for a few days. Body aches, a little congestion, and a foggy brain. I had zero energy and just wanted to sleep. More importantly, I couldn’t really focus my thinking on anything.

This may come as a shock to you but I do put a fair amount of what I hope is clear-headed thought into the screed. While I might have been able to force myself to spend a lot of extra time to write something, I thought it a better course of (in)action just to give it a rest. I’m a big believer in doing nothing when one’s head is foggy and let me explain why.

“Foggy” to me just doesn’t mean the state I’ve been in over the last few days. Foggy is when things are unclear at all. It may be because you’re distracted or it may be because the information you need to make a decision is incomplete, unclear, or inadequate. Jason Day, for example, withdrew from a golf tournament a couple of weeks ago because he was distracted by the fact that his mom was having surgery (she’s fine) and he couldn’t focus. Rather than making bad decisions on the course, he made a great one and left it.

Each of us needs to think along the same lines. Sure, sometimes fuzzy logic is called for because we can’t get enough information. In and of itself, that’s a clear-headed decision you make. Oftentimes, however, anything from a cold to a hangover to a family matter to office politics can reduce or eliminate your ability to focus. Those are the times when we need more time because I don’t concur that a bad decision is always better than no decision.

What do you think?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Consulting, What's Going On

The Ninth Candle

Last night was the first night of Hanukkah. You’ve probably seen a version of the candelabra that is used to hold the candles that are lit each night of the holiday. You might not, however, have noticed that while the holiday goes for 8 nights there are spaces for 9 candles in the candelabra, called a Menorah. The ninth candle is our business topic today.

That candle is called the shamash in Hebrew, which translates to “helper” or “servant.” It’s not like the other candles in that it sits either higher or lower than the others in the menorah. It’s used to light the other candles, and although it burns just as brightly and sits in the same candelabra, it’s different.

What this brings to mind is how those of us who have grown up into managers and executives become very much like the ninth candle. We’re servants and helpers. Our job is to help the other members of the team to do their job, much like the shamash enables the other candles. Where we get into trouble is when we forget that. The people who actually do the work don’t serve us. They serve the organization, its goals, and customers.

Think about the best boss you’ve ever had (and I hope you’ve had some great ones!). My guess is that they were clear communicators who respected you as a person and as a professional. They probably never talked down to you when you didn’t understand something and were always pushing you to be your best self. They were also willing to get you whatever you needed to do your job, to the extent they could whether that’s a better computer or a pencil. They were also unwilling to let a weak team member jeopardize the entire team so they were clear about standards and held everyone to the same ones.

As you pass by a menorah (whether it’s a real one or a picture) this Hanukkah, remind yourself that while you may be the boss, you’re also a shamash, a ninth candle that’s a part of the team. You might sit higher up but you’re really there to help. Make sense?

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Filed under Thinking Aloud, What's Going On