It’s Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. This was a post from several years ago. As I read it over, looking for inspiration for something to write on the subject of change and business based on the holiday, I realized that I had expressed my thinking pretty well in the earlier post. Those of you who celebrate the holiday are probably not reading this until sundown (I scheduled this yesterday in keeping with the spirit of not working on the day). Whether you do or don’t celebrate, I hope you’ll take a moment to reflect.
Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. For those of you unfamiliar with the holiday, it concludes the 10 day period at the start of the Jewish calendar – Rosh Hashanah – head of the year – during which all Jews are supposed to reflect upon the past year and examine how they’re going to change their lives going forward. One also seeks forgiveness from those against whom he has transgressed – both those of this earth and higher powers. There is a lot of other imagery connected with the period – inscription in the Book of Life being a big one – but I think there’s something each of us can take as a business lesson in a non-denominational way.
We all get off track. Sometimes it’s in little ways like eating badly or drinking too much. Sometimes it’s in big ways like alienating our families or hurting friends who love us. The concept in Judaism of repentance is called Teshuva which means “return”. I love the notion of coming back to one’s self as well as to the basic human tenets that are common to all religions and peoples.
We can take a period of reflection and “return” in our business lives as well. The most obvious way is for us as individuals. Who have we alienated this year? What client have we taken for granted? But it a bigger opportunity. How has the business diverged from the mission? Why have we stopped getting better and are just marching in place? What can we be doing to grow our people but are ignoring?
We ask those kinds of questions from time to time, but I guess I’m suggesting that it become a more formal process. Set aside a period every year for “return” thinking. A period of repentance? Maybe, in some cases. But in all cases a chance to change. A chance to regret past bad actions and to vow not to repeat them. Most importantly (this is true in the religious sense as well), to correct the transgression. To apologize. To make restitution. Whatever is right and lets everyone move forward with a clear conscious and a vow to do better.
Sound like a plan?
I went to bed last night after watching my favorite weather forecaster give a rather dire outlook for this week. When I moved to North Carolina I opted for hurricanes over blizzards, I guess, and now it appears that one is headed right for us.
I ran out earlier to pick up a case of water bottles just in case the forecasts are accurate. The local Walmart had nary a bottle anywhere, and the long aisle of empty shelving reminded me that I wasn’t the only person who had this idea four days ahead of when this thing is supposed to pay us a visit. I’ve got lots of ice to hold the food and lots of wine to hold me so I think I’ll be fine.
On the drive home I thought to myself that it was pretty cool how everyone is going about their business and preparing. There weren’t any D batteries at Walmart either and there were lines at the gas stations I passed. People are trying, as we were constantly told in the Boy Scouts, to “be prepared.” Which leads me to today’s screed.
There is a hurricane headed for your business. It might not be on your radar yet or you may have red flags raised over your beaches, but you can rest assured that at some point a massive, devastating storm will hit you. The thing is that you need to have a disaster place in place and preparations made long before that time arrives. Was Chipotle ready for the massive e. coli outbreak? It almost destroyed them and they still haven’t recovered. What if the power grid fails for whatever reason and all of your refrigerated inventory must be thrown out? What’s the plan to deal with that and are there financial plans in place to recover?
You need a crisis response team and a disaster plan. Your key players from all your relevant business functions – operations, public relations, marketing, quality assurance, legal, etc. – have to have been briefed on the plan long before it’s executed. I’ve written before about how my organization’s web servers failed after 9/11 due to a lack of dust filters that forced the shutdown of the emergency power we were careful to have at our disposal. When the crisis had passed, we rewrote the disaster plan to account for yet another “just in case.”
Hurricanes happen. The question isn’t how to prevent hurricanes but how best to prepare and recover from any damage they cause when they do. I’m ready for this one. Are you?
This Foodie Friday we’re going to have a think about blockchain. If you’re thinking that “food” and “blockchain” don’t relate as well as, say, peanut butter and jelly, apparently you’re underinformed.
If you’re unfamiliar with blockchain, you probably ought to do something to learn about it since it’s weaving its way into everything these days. Basically, it’s a list of records called blocks which are linked to one another cryptographically in a publicly available ledger. It makes tracking things easy and it’s an extremely secure method for doing so.
Applying blockchain to food is happening. Think about a chicken you find at the market. What if you could scan the package and know everything about the contents? When the bird was born and where, what its diet was, if it’s GMO-free, etc., when and where it was processed, packed and shipped, ad infinitum. Cool, right? It’s also possible with food that routinely gets mislabeled as something else: fish. It makes everything traceable, which is a big help with respect to food safety.
I see two issues. One is the cost. Think about what’s happened in digital advertising. We’ve layered on technology to buy and sell ads and at the same time, we’ve added a huge layer of cost. Blockchain in the food area won’t be cheap, I’m sure. We’ve also made the entire industry less transparent, and while blockchain is just arriving in the ad world, it points to the fact that there are a lot of bad actors out there.
This points to the bigger issue which is an old, familiar one: GIGO. Garbage In, Garbage Out. Who is to say that the information in the system is accurate? The data may say one thing while the truth might be quite different. Criminals will learn how to cheat the blockchain just as they have learned how to game the ad business out of billions of dollars every year. While we will be able to trace food we won’t be able to tell if it’s been adulterated without a robust system of inspection.
Do I think this technology belongs in the food business? Probably – the benefits of things such as pinpointing shelf-life or finding the sources of bacterial outbreaks quickly are huge. I guess I wonder about the cost – at what price will this all happen? Will the benefits only accrue to those who can afford to pay for the food that’s blockchain certified? What do you think?
As we head toward Independence Day here in the U.S., I usually do something that I’d encourage you all to do as well. I read The Declaration Of Independence. Why you might wonder, would I read the same document that I must have read at least 50 times? Because like almost everything, context is almost as important as content and since the context seems to change constantly, how I’m reading the document does as well.
You probably know some of the “big” parts:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
What you probably haven’t read lately (maybe ever!) is the laundry list of “Facts” the colonists were accusing the King of imposing. They run the gamut from messing with the legislature and the legislative process to obstructing immigration to using the military to keep the populace in check. There are limits in trade and imposition of taxes, and of course, “He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.” It’s quite a list and if you haven’t read it, you can here.
I raise this for a couple of reasons. First, you will see some current issues on the list. 242 years later we’re still arguing about things such as immigration, taxes, trade policies and other things on the list. Second, you might ask yourself what your customers, partners, vendors, and employees might say if they were asked to construct a similar list about you and your business. I think before they declare independence from you, they probably do just that even if they don’t write them down and publish them.
As we celebrate the birth of our country, we might also think about how that birth came about. That same process might result in affecting your business since I believe one message of the Declaration is that leaders need to listen. Are you?
Jimmy Buffett wrong a song almost 40 years ago called “Growing Older But Not Up.” He wrote the song after breaking his leg in a charity softball game while running the bases. It’s a song I think about fairly often as I’m aging.
Our bodies grow older and change but we still think we’re eternally 25 and able to do all of the silly things we did then without consequences. We sometimes fail to recognize that we’ve changed and we need to deal with the world differently:
Though my mind is quite flexible
These brittle bones don’t bend.
Amen, brother. He was 34 when he wrote that and he says he’s still behaving badly at 71 though to a far lesser degree. The only constant is change, right? I think so, although I wonder sometimes if many in business recognize that this country is changing as it grows older too. I mean that literally. The country is aging, and it’s probably one of the most important changes affecting everyone in business. My generation, the baby boomers, are living longer, the birth rate is down among younger people, and we’re an older population. Here’s a tidbit:
Census figures show that fewer than 17 percent of U.S. counties reported a decrease in median age from April 2010 to July 2017, with the majority of those counties clustered in the Midwest. Nationally, the median age rose to 38.0 years in 2017, up from 37.2 years in 2000.
Doesn’t sound like much of a change but it represents the reason why we see many more ads for drugs (older folks are generally sicker), bigger cars, retirement accounts, and other things. So the question to you is how are you preparing for, and dealing with, the demographic changes that are happening? We’re becoming a more diverse nation too but that’s a much more complicated answer than focusing on age.
You have a couple of choices. You can reexamine your product mix and see if it appeals to people over 50. I’m not sure that Facebook thought it was a senior product but that’s what it has become as young folks are using it less and less. If it has appeal, maybe you need to be targeting that older segment, or at least testing.
The other choice is to deny the change. You’d be like Jimmy, trying to pursue things that reality makes less possible. Your heart and mind might be the right place but your market has changed and you need to adjust your thinking. We can all complain about the changes to the market but we can’t reverse them. Make sense?
It’s June, the month of newly-minted college graduates entering the workforce. There will be a fair amount of job-seeking going on and today I want to spend a minute to reflect on a few things I’ve learned over the years both about finding a job and filling one.
First, finding one. Obviously, the way the job market works has changed since I graduated college several decades ago. Job websites and LinkedIn didn’t exist and the process is way more efficient now. The problem is that so has the nature of work because business itself has been reshaped. The disintermediation of almost everything has meant the nature of hiring needs has changed. Retail jobs have moved from store clerks to engineers who help with online inventory management, customer experience, and other jobs that didn’t exist in the retail sector back in the day. Ride-sharing has created a different sort of cab driver (a popular job for many when we couldn’t get other work), one that doesn’t require a hack license but does require that you have access to a car.
What hasn’t changed about looking for that entry-level job is that you need to have a willingness to do damn near anything. My first job was making slides for presentations at a trade group. Yes, I was an honors graduate with degrees in English and Education and I had no interest in making slides: I wanted to write. I also wanted to eat and to get my foot in the door. I’m always surprised when I talk with a young person who feels many entry jobs are beneath them.
The other thing that hasn’t changed, and this applies to both sides of the hiring desk, is the skills required. I always looked for people who were smart, who could express that intelligence both orally and in the written communication we had, and who seemed like self-starters. Those candidates are the ones who will learn on the job and perform, and I have many examples of that in my hiring. I’d add to the list that the candidate should be able to handle disruptions well. Every business has been or will be disrupted and, therefore, the nature of every job will change as well. Society and business are constantly getting more efficient – more things will be available to more people for lower overall costs – so the hiring and job-seeking processes need to mirror that. Does yours?