Category Archives: What’s Going On

Upon A Solid Foundation

Chuck Berry passed this weekend. When I heard the news I mentioned it to a younger friend who asked “who?” That made me a little sad, but it also made me think about today’s topic, as did a couple of other things that transpired over the last few days.

Publicity photo of Chuck Berry.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, Mr. Berry. Chuck Berry, as you might have learned over the last couple of days of news, is one of the founding fathers of rock and roll. While you might not know him if you’re younger than about 50, you certainly know his music. Johnny B. Goode is a song any young rock musician has played, and it was a concert standard of dozens of bands from The Grateful Dead to Jimi Hendrix to The Rolling Stones. The Beatles had hits with Roll Over Beethoven and Rock And Roll Music. Many other bands either had hits covering one of his songs or stealing one of his songs and making one of their own out of it (The Beach Boys Surfin’ USA is Sweet Little Sixteen reworked, for example).

Anyone who has strapped on an electric guitar and rocked out sits on the shoulders of Chuck Berry, among others. Heck, he was a big enough influence on this kid that when I got my first electric guitar as I turned 13, I wanted a Gibson ES-335, the kind that Chuck Berry played.

It’s not just music history that got me thinking. The men’s and women’s golf tours each played tournaments this weekend that saluted key individuals in their history. The LPGA played the Founders Cup, which was established to honor the 13 original Founders of the LPGA. Several of those women are still living and sat by the 18th green. As the players finished, each one went to thank the founders personally. The PGA Tour contested The Arnold Palmer Invitational, a tournament hosted in years past by Mr. Palmer but which has morphed into a tribute to one of the men who made professional golf what it is today. Which leads to today’s topic.

What each of these things reminds us is that none of us stand alone in business. Our success rests upon a solid foundation, one that was built by many people. Our parents, our teachers, and our mentors in business are the obvious ones. There were also those who preceded us in our field, blazing the trail and making mistakes so that we don’t have to. You might wake up with a great idea for a new business or product, but I guarantee the seeds were planted by those who went before.

Maybe today is a good day to think about and examine the foundation upon which our success rests? It’s an even better idea to thank someone who built yours, don’t you think?

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Smoke And Mirrors

I wrote last week about magic and distractions. Another magically-themed post today about the smoke and mirrors magicians use in their acts. That expression has come to mean something that’s deceptive or fraudulent, and a couple of pieces about the marketing business got me thinking about that term today. Even if you’re not a marketer (but who isn’t!), there’s something to take away.

One piece on Digiday dealt with ad-buying technology. You’re probably aware that the majority of digital ad buying (which will soon cover TV as well!) is done programmatically. No humans are involved other than to create the platforms on the vending end and choosing the ones to use on the buying end. The Digiday piece contains the following statements from an ad tech software developer:

I can say from first-hand experience that a lot of it is taped together stuff and nowhere near the sophistication that’s talked about…It is really easy to put up a website and mention “algorithms,” “machine learning” and a bunch of buzzwords. Nobody knows how that works. You can’t actually look into it, it is all just black boxes. But underneath, there is no real special sauce for a lot of these companies.

In other words, smoke and mirrors. Billions of dollars are spent this way and marketers are (finally) demanding to know how their money is really being spent. They’re turning on the lights and blowing away the smoke. Which leads to the second piece from MediaPost. It mentions “the terrible murky waters of rebates and contracts” and the same lack of transparency to which the other piece alludes. P&G is demanding more transparency, insisting that media agencies show that they are using providers that apply industry standards in measuring viewability and fraud. Ogilvy and Mather is reorganizing under a single P&L accounting structures for clients and thereby boosting transparency. Both of these moves are sending the magicians home.

We all need to ask ourselves about smoke and mirrors in our businesses. We need to challenge sources behind reports and assure ourselves that what we’re reading or hearing is rooted in fact and not someone’s fiction. A good practice outside of business too, don’t you think?

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My Parents Are Brave

I’m in Florida this week helping my folks move. They’re moving into an independent living place where they have neither to cook nor clean. There is transportation to shopping and banks for them and activities available hourly. Not bad, right? Right, except I consider them to be very brave for having made the move. Let me explain, and let me also add how I think this can apply to your business.

A moving truck operated by Piedmont Moving Sys...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While my parents are both in decent health, there is no question that they are slowing down and less able to do things as easily as they once did. They recognized it but they were fearful of packing up two homes (one up north, one here) and moving into what my dad calls an old folks home. As a child, he was reared in an orphanage, so moving into an institutional setting stirs up stuff for him. My mom moved her mother into a place like this one and I’m sure that moving in herself stirs up a lot of memories. Nevertheless, they are making the move. I think they’re quite brave.

What does this have to do with your business? We often recognize that circumstances are changing and that the business is unable to perform as it once did. The easy thing is to keep on doing what we’ve been doing. The brave thing is to figure out what the right thing is – what the needed changes are – and to change our circumstances to make a better future. We can’t let our fears or our level of comfort keep us from putting ourselves and our businesses in the best possible circumstances to assure success.

Even though they were scared, they moved. Change is rarely easy but often necessary, in business and in life. What changes are needed in your world?

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Top Posts Of The Year #3

Continuing our countdown to the most-read post of the year, this post is from last May. I’ll often use something that has happened to me as a case study, particularly when it involved bad customer service. I generally find that many of the issues that escalate into customers not returning to a business involve things that could be prevented or remedied with transparency. This post is one of those cases. Originally called “I Got Trucked,” it was prompted by a bad van rental experience. Enjoy!

I rented a cargo van and that’s when the fun started. I mentioned in another post that we’re preparing to sell Rancho Deluxe and part of the process is cleaning out 30 years of stuff. I booked a cargo van through Enterprise, a company from which I’ve rented cars in the past without issue. They confirmed my reservation but just to be safe I went to the local lot and examined the vehicle I was renting a week ahead of time to be sure it would serve my needs. It was fine.

At 2pm the day of the rental I got a call from Enterprise asking if I was indeed coming to pick it up. I said yes, the reservation is for 5:30 and that’s when I’ll be there. I asked if there was an issue. The guy on the phone said no, we have a van, it’s just not the one you saw. Hmm. Is it the same size? “No, it’s a little shorter.” “You mean less tall because I need height to get some items in?” “No, the length is less.” OK, not an issue.

5:30 comes and I go to get the van. It is quite nice but a miniature version of what I rented. It was no bigger than a minivan or large SUV, and not at all satisfactory for my needs. The customer service rep was very apologetic, informing me that the person who rented it last hadn’t brought it back, they’d been working all day to find me another one, etc. All well and good, but it’s 5:40, most other rental places have closed or will close in the next 20 minutes, and I need a van.

What’s the business lesson? First and foremost, be honest with your customers. Obviously, they knew there was an issue at 2 when they called. Why not be honest? I’ve been on the other end of this, running the NHL’s online commerce. One year we were completely out of hockey jerseys and the inventory system failed to turn off new orders. I told the customer service reps to be honest – we would not be able to fulfill the orders by Christmas and if the customers didn’t want a credit then a full refund should be offered. More than that, I asked our commerce folks to be proactive and contact the people immediately, since it is unacceptable that some kid wouldn’t get a gift due to our faulty inventory management.

Had they been open about the problem at 2, it would have given me 3 hours to find a replacement. They were also dishonest about the size of the replacement. It had nowhere close to the cargo capacity of what I rented. No, I didn’t take the replacement Enterprise offered me. I scrambled and was lucky enough to convince a U-Haul dealer to stay open an extra 15 minutes to rent me something like what I rented in the first place. It will cost me a few bucks more but at least I got what I needed.

I’m hoping this was an aberration on Enterprise’s part. As I said above, I’ve rented cars from them before without a hitch. Customers don’t expect perfection but they do expect to be told when there is a problem and to be told what you’re doing to solve it. I wasn’t told there was a problem until it was too late, and what they had done was to throw up their hands when they couldn’t find a replacement in their own inventory (ever hear of an airline rebooking you on another airline? Maybe get one from someone else?). The goodwill you’ll generate by doing so will outweigh the negative of the moment.  You with me?

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Willfully Ignorant

At the risk of being redundant, I’m going on a bit of a rant today about ignorance. It’s a topic I’ve touched on before but it seems as if something happens each day, either in the business world or elsewhere, that makes me feel as if I need to get this off my chest.

The hardest thing in business these days is seeing over the horizon. I think the people and enterprises that “win” are the ones whose horizon is just a bit further off, allowing them to see a little more of the road in front of them. I also believe that the way we can extend our horizons is through information. That impels each of us to seek out information about anything and everything that can help us improve our vision. Information about our market. Information about our customers. Information about our competitors. Information about the world around us.

What has me ranting today is the amount of willful ignorance I see. It’s one thing not to have information. It’s another thing if the information doesn’t exist. It’s absurd, however, to know that information is out there and even to have it offered to you and to decline it. Even worse is to hear about what the information source has to say and to challenge its reality based on nothing other than your own gut feel. That’s insane.

The worst part is that some of the folks who participate in this insanity do so out of hubris. They are the personifications of “let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good story” or in the way of their own ignorant beliefs. That’s not to say they’re stupid. Many of the folks I’ve met who act this way are quite intelligent. They’re just too smitten with their own success to date to believe anything but their own guts.

I wrote about the role of intuition in business (there is one!) a little while back. Intuition is NOT “I know better than anyone.” It’s not throwing out factual information because it conflicts with your world view. It’s certainly not being willfully ignorant.

So today’s bit of business advice is to choose knowledge. Rather than willfully ignorant, be aggressively knowledgable. See further over the horizon and you’ll make better decisions. OK?

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Food And Doing Well By Doing Good

This Foodie Friday I want to chat about a couple of food-related things I read this week and how they might translate into some thinking about your business. The first is an article (seen here) about how Nestle has figured out a way to cut the sugar in its candy. The second is something businesses are doing in Japan to help with a problem on their roads.

Nestle Crunch in most recent packaging

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nestle says its researchers have found a way to structure sugar differently so that it uses 40% less. It claims this can be done without affecting the taste. As a former fatty who misses chocolate A LOT, this is good news. More importantly, it helps to address the epidemics of diabetes and obesity. Nestle is patenting the method which seems like a missed opportunity to open source something that can help a lot of people. Of course, once you file a patent the method is no longer secret so maybe others will find a way to do the same.

In Japan, as in many other countries including our own, the population is aging and the old folks are continuing to drive. My 91-year-old Dad refuses to give up the car keys and it’s something that keeps our whole family up at night. What they’re doing in Japan is to offer the super seniors discounts. In fact, nearly 12,000 seniors living in Aichi had voluntarily given up their licenses in exchange for discounted goods and services, and that was before one of the leading ramen chains (hence the food focus!) offered a discount for life to those who hand over their licenses. Since the proportion of all fatal accidents attributed to drivers over 75 has spiked from 7.4 percent to 12.8 percent, this seems like a pretty good public service.

In both of these cases, the motivation may not have been to do well by doing something good but I think that’s the effect. Who wouldn’t want to eat less sugar and not down a bunch of artificial sweeteners which are just as bad? Nestle ought to sell more candy. In Japan, safer roads help everyone, and the businesses providing the discounts can’t serve younger customers who’ve been hurt by an older driver, not to mention the older drivers themselves. Hopefully, the additional patronage more than makes up for the discount.

This is the sort of thing any business can think about. How can we do some good in our community and does that activity hold the promise of helping the business? As anyone involved in Corporate Socal Responsibility will tell you, the two things are not exclusive to one another, and I’m all for it. You?

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Turkey Day

It’s time for the annual Thanksgiving post. Many years I’ve posted about the 3F’s that drive this holiday – family, football, and food. This year I’ve gone back to 2008 for a take that has little to do with business and a lot to do with why this is a special holiday. Enjoy!

My family loves Thanksgiving.  For the most part, so do I.  The entire family getting together is not something that happens with great regularity anymore – grandparents winter in Florida, kids are in college or living their own lives, brothers and sisters and other relations have busy schedules too.  So when 20 or 25 of us can pile into one location, it’s special, and each gathering is unique.  Except for one thing.Thanksgiving’s menu in my house is something that descended directly from the Pilgrims.  It is etched in two tablets made from the skin of the original bird (and we can have the discussion about whether that bird was in Plymouth or in St.Augustine another time).  Turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and apricots, cranberry mold, cranberry bread, veggies, stuffing and gallons of gravy are pretty much it.

English: "The First Thanksgiving at Plymo...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I cook every year and love to do it.  Except I can do it in my sleep at this point. I am under strict orders from all parties NOT TO FOOL (they use another word) WITH THE MENU.  The only choices I get to make are what kinds of stuffing and which veggies to serve.  But I don’t, really.

One year I caused a huge ruckus by announcing in advance (mistake) that I would be frying one of the birds (we usually have two).  The discovery of a cure for cancer would have caused less of a ruckus.  Of course, now a fried turkey is mandatory.  Another year I made four dressings – one a cornbread and andouille, one a sausage and herb, one an oyster, and one a vegetarian version that was very traditional.  Of course, only the last one was eaten up.  No more oysters (and don’t even start the discussion about that’s what the Indians ate) in the damn dressing and leave that andouille stuff south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Another year, I slow cooked the green beans with bacon.  “Darling, do you have any less cooked?  I’m not sure I know what I’m eating…”  Another year I served carrots with a tangerine glaze.  The next, I was berated for not serving carrots.

I’m writing this now because there are only two weeks to go and my Mom is asking if I’ve shopped yet (Mom is always ready well in advance).  I tell her I haven’t shopped because I haven’t planned the menu yet but who am I kidding?  The menu was done years ago.  I don’t have the heart to tell her I’m roasting the other bird in a Caja China and not an oven and that I’m seriously considering bringing back the cornbread thing.  But I’ll cook them whatever they want since having the family all together is more important to me than my exercising my chefly prerogatives.

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