Category Archives: What’s Going On

School’s In!

Today is the first day of school around here. If these kids are like many of the ones I’ve met over the years (and maybe even the two we raised), at some point the inevitable question pops up:

Why do I need to go to school?

As they get older, the question changes a bit (probably because they enjoy seeing their friends at school every day):

Why do I need to learn this stuff? 

That’s our topic today, and I think it’s something that applies to the business world as well. The answer to the first question is pretty obvious, and it’s not just because your parents are exhausted after driving you around all summer and need you gone for a bit. I’m a lot more interested in the second question because I think that most students, parents, and teachers get the answer wrong. You don’t need to learn “this stuff.” I can’t think of a single instance in my adult life where understanding differential equations or the structure of the carbon atom has been required.

So as a public service, I’m going to give you the answer to the second question which hopefully also answers the first. I’ve given it out before but hey, it’s the first day of school and the questions might come up again so you’re welcome.

You go to school to learn two things.

  1. How to locate and verify pieces of information (let’s call them facts) in order to formulate your thoughts.
  2. How to express the thoughts you formulate both orally and in writing to communicate your thinking.

That’s it. Learn those two things and you can pretty much do anything you choose to do in this world. Ask yourself how many business people you know who can do those two things successfully and I’ll bet you also have a list of the best business people you know. In an era when “fake news” is a term thrown around like beads at a Mardi Gras parade, understanding how to determine what news is really fake and what’s just being labeled as such to distract you from facts is critical. Not everything you read in your school books is accurate, but if you don’t have a well-developed BS detector as well as the skills to track down the truth, how will you create accurate thoughts from inaccurate information either in school or beyond?

Please feel free to print this off and hand it to your kids, large or small, who are wondering about school. Feel free to ask yourself if you managed to learn those things along the way as well. If not, maybe it’s back to school for you too?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, What's Going On, Thinking Aloud

Eclipsing Our Sun

By now you’ve probably heard that there will be a total solar eclipse in two weeks (August 21).  This will be the first total solar eclipse (when the moon moves directly between Earth and the sun) visible in the United States in nearly four decades.

English: Total Solar eclipse 1999 in France. *...

(Wikipedia)

During the eclipse, the 70-mile-wide shadow cast by the moon will darken the skies from Oregon to South Carolina, according to Space.com. What makes this eclipse notable is how accessible it will be to many people since the path of most total eclipses falls over water or unpopulated regions of the planet. This event will go down as the first total solar eclipse whose path of totality stays completely in the United States since 1776. Too bad it didn’t happen on July 4!

Total solar eclipses supposedly have happened at notable times in history. Jesus’ crucifixion, Mohammed‘s birth, and King Henry I‘s death all coincided with a total eclipse. I’m not here to speculate on why those or other events happened simultaneously with a disruption in the Sun’s presence. Instead, I want to focus on a business thought that came to me as I thought about other effects an eclipse has.

When we fall into the moon’s shadow, birds think it’s night and stop chirping, the temperature falls, and things not usually visible become clear. The Sun’s corona, which is the Sun’s upper atmosphere, is clearly visible, as are many stars and planets often obscured at night by moonlight or all the lights turned on automatically on the ground. If you look around you, you might even see a 360-degree sunset as well. What does this have to do with business?

We all have our business “sun.” It might be our process, it might be our boss or coworkers, it might be the favorite customers that illuminate our days, provide warmth, and make survival possible, Every once in a while, however, it’s not a bad idea to precipitate an eclipse of some sort. As with the upcoming event, doing so will often make things visible that your business sun obscures. Maybe your reliance on that sun or suns is stopping you from seeing things about them or opportunities beyond them. What do you think?

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Cars For Dummies

I bought a new car yesterday. Mine was going on 10 years old and was beginning to show those little warning signs that it was heading downhill. Advocate for proactive action that I am, I decided that 10 years was a good run and that the car and I should part as friends. I know this will come as a shock to you but today’s post isn’t a screed about how my salesperson mistreated me (he didn’t) or how the paperwork takes forever (well, only about an hour) or how I had to negotiate my butt off to get a fair deal (we agreed on numbers in about 30 seconds – yay for the internet bringing transparency).

What has surprised me instead is how much more complex the car is. The decade has turned our vehicles into rolling computers. The owner’s manual – which comes in a few volumes – is roughly the size of a paperback edition of War And Peace. It should have a “hernia hazard” warning on the cover. The car has radar on all sides so that there is no longer a “blind spot”. I can set the cruise control and the radar in front of the car will keep me at a pre-determined distance from the car in front of me regardless of the speed I’ve set. The car will also hit the brakes if it thinks I’m moving toward an object too quickly – useful for idiots that are texting and driving I suppose, but also in case the car in front of you stops short.

I have the ability to connect via Bluetooth, which I had in my old car, but the functionality is much more advanced. In addition, I can link in via a USB cable and have the car perform dozens of functions through my phone and the car’s software. I can install apps in the car, which has its own ISP address. Of course, that’s assuming I can understand how to use all of this. The media center has its own rather large manual as well. My favorite passage in both manuals so far? A warning not to test the collision avoidance system. I suppose some moron thinks driving at a wall doing 40 to see if it works might be fun.

Why am I bring this up? Cars are very complicated machines and while I’m certainly a long-time user of them (as well as a relatively sophisticated user of digital products) I’m kind of overwhelmed. Part of what we need to remember as we introduce new features to current users or our product to new users is that they need help. Jargon isn’t helpful nor are explanations written by technical writers who are engineers first and consumers second. I would have loved a short pamphlet that showed the “Top Ten Things You Will Want To Do First”, written in plain language, highly illustrated, and backed up by a newcomers’ hotline I could call if I ran into trouble. Expensive to support? Sure, but cars are expensive products. Could the dealer have sat with me and provided that service? You bet. Did they? Nope.

Selling the product is only part of the process. Making sure the customer gets every bit of value out of what you’ve sold them is just as important. I’m off to figure out just what I’ve bought here. At least I knew how to get it home!

 

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Learning From The Apocalypse

While you’re probably aware of the loss of jobs in the coal mining sector, you might not have been paying attention to what’s going on in retail. Department stores alone have lost 18 times the number of jobs when compared with coal miners since 2001. That doesn’t include all the smaller players that have gone out of business nor the number of jobs lost among those who are support people at shopping malls – cleaners, etc. The term you see most often as you begin to research this topic is “apocalypse.” If you’re in the media business, the music business, or many others, you might think of it as just another incidence of disruption.

Inside an abandoned mall in Allen, Texas. The ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the most disturbing things I’ve read recently was as study by GetApp, which reported that

Two out of three business owners who currently run both an online and physical store believe that they will close their physical store’s doors within ten years and operate their business solely online, according to new research conducted by GetApp.

In fact, there were over 3,500 store closings from Macy’s, JCPenney, K-Mart, and others this year. It’s happening because of technology and globalization. Ask yourself when the last time you went to the mall to go shopping. The only times I’ve been have been when I needed something in my hands immediately, and even that reason is being addressed by Amazon and others. It’s not going to get better, either.

So what do you do if you’ve invested millions of dollars building malls or other large retail spaces? That’s really the situation many businesses find themselves in. Not with respect to owning physical space but in having to expand their thinking. Landlords who thought of themselves as containers for retail are now having to think about servicing a different clientele. Churches, movie theaters, medical offices, gyms, and other tenants can move in while others move out. I drove through what used to be an outlet mall this weekend, and while it was pretty deserted (and kind of depressing), there appeared to be a couple of small start-up companies who had leased space. I’m wondering if the space was less expensive than comparable space in one of the many start-up hotels that have popped up seemingly everywhere. Of course, servicing these other tenants will require a different set of services and skills but that’s what disruption breeds, isn’t it?

The retail apocalypse is just one manifestation of what’s been happening for the last 25 years. Every business is ripe for disruption and it’s really a case of how far along it is in the process. The real question is how prepared are you as it’s happening?

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My Board Is Meeting

If you’ve been wondering where the screed has been for the last couple of days, the post below from 2009 will explain everything. Originally titled “The BOA,” the “meeting” I’m attending is an incredibly valuable gathering both for me and for my clients because it helps me be a better advisor. Enjoy!

I leave tomorrow morning on an annual trip I take to Myrtle Beach.  In theory, it’s a golf outing but it’s more of a 5 day stay in a rest home getting my batteries recharged.  13 of us go, 12 of whom play golf.  The other guy is a “social member” – most golf clubs have them – who enjoys the non-golf activities – cards, movies, and general guy banter.  Like “Fight Club“, the first rule is we don’t really talk about it.  However, what I can talk about that these are the guys whom I trust, to whom I can turn for advice, and who are honest – often brutally so – with me about everything from my golf game to my attitude.  For all of the social networking tools available out there, nothing beats the face to face contact with this group for me. There is a business lesson in this as well.
Every businessperson needs a “board of advisors” for themselves, not their business.  While your significant other is a great start, like a business BOA, you need multiple diverse points of view.   My group has a few lawyers, an accountant, a few “money” guys, a restaurateur, another digital media expert  – you get the idea.  Ideally, these are people who can get past how you say things and hear what it is you’re saying. They are comfortable enough with you to know that their candor will be taken in the open, supportive spirit in which it’s offered.  When their advice isn’t taken, they’re not offended and are smart enough to hold their tongues when it turns out their advice was right.

So off I go to meet with my BOA. I’ll try to keep posting over the next few days but if I don’t, please understand it’s because I’m in a Board meeting.  When is your next meeting? Do you have a board to gather?Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

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A Little Bit Better

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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Bilkies And Bunnies

Handmade shmura matzo

Image via Wikipedia

It’s Foodie Friday, and this year I’ve decided to repost something from a Foodie Friday in 2009. Originally titled “Jewish Thanksgiving,” I’m putting it back up because many of you are new readers since 2009 and because my family is gathering this evening to celebrate. That means I’m busy making bilkies. Making what? Read on!

This week’s Foodie Fun Friday post is dedicated to all of you who won’t be using the bathroom for the next week.  You know who you are.  But the gentiles out there are wondering “what could he possibly mean?  What could possibly stop someone up that badly?”  Well, dear readers, Passover started Wednesday night and by now, most Jewish homes have had two Seders. With those Seders goes matzo and when we say hello to the matzo, we say “buh-bye” to regularity.

As some of you know, my view is that most Jewish holidays can be summarized thusly:

Someone tried to kill all the Jews;
The Lord saved us;
Let’s eat.

Passover typifies this more than any other holiday. It’s really Jewish thanksgiving with brisket substituted for turkey and various other beige and brown foods substituting for the rest. Passover is a great culinary challenge on many levels.  Think about how often you use breadcrumbs or cornstarch when you cook and you’ll begin to understand.  Sure, matzo meal and potato starch are substitutes but they change the flavor, consistency, and appearance of the food in which they’re used.  Oy!

One dish that’s made in our family is something I’ve not seen elsewhere.  We call it a “bilkie or bilky” – not sure of the spelling.  It’s sort of a knish without the outside.  One cooks down some onions in schmaltz (don’t ask – these are really delicious and really not healthy) and adds them to mashed potatoes.  Some more schmaltz, matzo meal, and some eggs to bind.  Then one forms patties, glazes them with egg wash, and bakes them at 500 degrees until brown.  I usually make a few dozen of these and there are NEVER any left – my relatives put what they don’t eat in their purses, which isn’t easy since they’re the approximate size and weight of a compact car hubcap.   I’d love to know if any of you have ever heard of anything similar?

I love this holiday and love that it coincides with Easter.  Everyone has a reason to eat even if we can’t exactly share a lot of the desserts.  And in a week when we go back to eating as we regularly do, we all hope that the rest of us becomes as regular as our eating habits.   On to Memorial Day, the next great pig-out!

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