Tag Archives: advice

Techniques, Not Recipes

It’s finally Foodie Friday again and something I cooked last week sparked a thought. I was trying to find a recipe for a dish I liked and found several versions, each slightly different. The one thing that they had in common, however, was how they were prepared. The process of pulling the dish together was nearly identical in every example. Each used a few common terms to represent techniques: saute, fold, and others.

A cook sautees onions and peppers.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This reminded me of a very basic thing I heard a long time ago: it’s learning techniques that matter, not learning recipes. One of the world’s culinary masters, Jacques Pepin, wrote a book decades ago called “La Technique” which is an encyclopedic look at everything from boning out a leg of lamb to making garnishes out of fruit. As a cook, learning technique is what frees you up to explore food and create your version of anything. It’s a process that never ends, by the way. Despite my years in the kitchen, I’ve only learned to sous vide and to use a pressure cooker in the last couple of years. Both techniques have become skills I use on a regular basis now.

Of course, this thinking doesn’t just apply to cooking. If you play a musical instrument, you’re probably aware that you spend an inordinate amount of time learning everything from how to hold the thing, the proper fingerings to produce certain notes, and what notes are in which scales. As a guitar player, I learned patterns, bends, and hammers as well. Once you understood what each of those techniques produces, you were freed up to make music: YOUR music.

Business isn’t any different. The problem, however, is that many folks don’t take the time to understand that they must learn technique before they can make their own music or create their own food. They try to produce the recipes that make for success in business without having the skills required. Without those techniques, the results will take far longer, if they’re achieved at all. Moreover, it’s nearly impossible for them to make their own music.

Which techniques? Analyzing, communicating, synthesizing, negotiating, budgeting, and presenting are good places to start. There is another dozen I could add to the list, but You get the point. In the office or in the kitchen, having an understanding of the basic techniques which underpin business or cooking, respectively, is a critical element in your success. Otherwise, just trying to duplicate someone else’s recipe will be the best you can do, and even that might be a long slog. Make sense?

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Hot Dog! It’s Friday!

It’s Foodie Friday! I spent many years working in the sports business and because of that, I was privileged to attend hundreds of sporting events around the world. One of the best parts of those experiences was the food. Inevitably, there was some down time which allowed me to wander about the arena or stadium and sample the food. I am a big believer in what I consider the truism (as the late great Frank Deford wrote) that a hot dog tastes better at the ball park. I’m such a devotee of having a dog (or 3) at the game that I usually have one before I even get to my seat. But why is that, and, more importantly for our purposes here, what does that tell us about our business?

A cooked hot dog garnished with mustard.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You might suppose that it’s the particular brand of dog served. I’ve purchased the identical brands served at various places and they never taste the same when I prepare them at home. I’ve boiled them, steamed them, grilled them, or some combination of methods and yet while the taste is similar, it’s not the same. It’s not the condiments or the bun (steamed, grilled, toasted, or right out of the bag – doesn’t matter!). No, dear readers, it’s the environment.

Many studies have demonstrated the effect that environmental elements have on our perception of food. Obvious things such as lighting and less obvious things such as the music playing have been proven to change how we perceive food tastes. One obvious example is food eaten on an airplane, where the pressure is lower and the noise is higher. Our taste buds don’t function as well at 35,000 feet so airline chefs overseason their dishes (the combination of dryness and low pressure reduces the sensitivity of your taste buds to sweet and salty foods by around 30%, according to a 2010 study conducted by Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics). What does this have to do with your business?

A lot. The environment we create in our offices or stores or even our digital presences can affect how workers and customers “taste” what we’re offering. If we demonstrate a commitment to openness and trust, we create an environment where everyone perceives that things are better than elsewhere even when they’re common events. We can yell and scream while we eat at the ballpark. The food tastes better because we’re having fun. Are you encouraging that kind of fun in your place of business? Most concession stands offer condiments so you can have your food the way you like it. Do you offer the same kind of personalization to your workers or customers? Do you take their personal lives into account and offer some flexibility in hours or remote work?

Think about why the same dog you prepare at home tastes way better at the stadium as you think about how you approach your customers and your business. You’ll be on the way to standing out from your competitors, even if they’re offering a similar product or service.

Leave a comment

Filed under food, Consulting, Thinking Aloud

Intellectual Laziness

I’m sure your Twitter and/or Facebook feeds are filled with articles and discussions from and among your friends. Mine certainly are, and what strikes me about many of them is how intellectually lazy they’ve become. That’s odd, since most of my friends are anything but. They tend to be smart and able to see nuance, yet my feeds are filled with blanket generalizations and narrow perspectives, not to mention the unchallenged fake news.

I think that laziness is becoming more pervasive in business too. Maybe it’s that our brains have been taken over by the manner in which we think in the social media space or maybe it’s just easier to paint with broad strokes since there is so much information coming at us every single day. I think that’s a rationalization. More importantly, it’s dangerous.

When we make use of generalizations and blanket statements we negate things that don’t fit into the underlying assumptions, schemas, and stereotypes of our business. This intellectual laziness is also used to maintain the status quo.

Think about how often a good idea has been crushed by someone using the words “always” or “never.” Those terms are overly broad and prevent new thinking about old problems. instead, we’d all be better served by maintaining a beginner’s mind and listening more than we speak.  It’s pretty much truism that you’ll learn more from listening than you will from talking. Taking what we hear and synthesizing new ideas in the context of the business environment is how we move forward. More importantly, it’s the antithesis of being intellectually lazy.

I think people who are intellectually lazy are toxic both in business and in the world at large. I’m making more use of lists in my social feeds to weed out those toxic folks so I can enjoy the critical thinking of others and make myself a little smarter each day. You?

1 Comment

Filed under Huh?, Thinking Aloud

A Rose By Any Other Name

It’s Foodie Friday! Today I want to discuss grilling since I’m told that July is National Grilling Month (who knew). An article in AdWeek tipped me to that fact, along with the fact that how to grill steak is the most researched topic on YouTube, followed by grilling pork, chicken, and ribs.

I’m gratified that they used the term “grilling,” because, in a lot of places, the grill is known as the barbecue, as is what you’re doing when you cook on it. Barbecue, of course, is a very different food. It’s smoked, not grilled, over low heat. Grilling generally involves a high heat, either directly or indirectly applied to the food. Nevertheless, I have friends and family who ask if we’re going to “barbecue” some steaks. I made the error of saying I wanted to fire up the barbecue in front of some Southern friends and they wondered out loud if we were going to be eating in 5 or 6 hours, a reasonable amount of time for anything to be real ‘cue.

There is a business point in this. Often we say one thing without realizing that the people to whom we’re saying it are interpreting it as something entirely different. “Dressing” to my Yankee friends is something you put on a salad; in the South, it’s a bread-based side dish (like what we’d call stuffing). “Greens” up North are the base of a salad; down South, they’re usually cooked collards.

Part of being a good businessperson (and a great manager) is making sure not only that what you’ve said has been heard but also that the meaning you intended to convey is the meaning assigned to your statement. Lawyers tend to be very good at this, sometimes painfully so. There’s a reason why they’re as precise as they are, though, as our examples show.

I’ll grill something this weekend. I might barbecue as well (although it tends not to be a verb down South). I know the difference and will be sure that anyone to whom I mention what I’m cooking does as well. See the difference?

Leave a comment

Filed under food, Helpful Hints

Independence Day Once More

I’m going to be a little lazy today since I have a sneaky feeling that many of you are off having fun for the extended holiday weekend. My laziness is taking the form of reposting this piece from July of 2008. As I reread it, It struck me that it’s even more appropriate now than it was 9 years ago (have I really been at this for that long??). No, it’s not an election year, but the rest of it struck a chord with me. You?

It’s going on July 4th and to all of us raised on the Red, White, and Blue we know it’s a day (OK, a long weekend) during which we can celebrate the fundamental principles that make the US of A what it is.  No, I’m not going to venture into politics (although it IS an election year and there’s a LOT to talk about).  What I do want to write about is the contradiction of the “independence day” term.

The Constitution (I know – a bit after the Declaration) begins with the word “we.”  We The People.  Not “me.”  The independence rightly celebrated this weekend is, to me, about the specific rights and freedoms we have to be ourselves as a people, with all the quirks that make us unique.  WE are independent of other folks (Great Britain, specifically, long ago) but NOT from one another.  I’ve spent the last 30+ years learning how critical having a strong bunch of folks around you is as well as setting the bar high in terms of with whom you do business as best you can.  Why?  Because the better they are, the better you become.  As I’ve transitioned from corporate life to consulting, the friends and business friends I’ve made over the last 30 years have been an unbelievable support network, even for a guy who is now independent.

Jack Ingram puts it well in his song “We’re All In This Together“:

We all think we’re special
And I hate to have to say
There’s a bunch of us on every corner
Of any town U.S.A.
We all got our problems
We all pay our dues
So if you’re thinking no one understands
I’ve got news for you

Chorus

We’re all in this together
Whether we like it or not
So we might as well have a good time
With the little piece of time we got
Life’s too short to fuss and fight
So we might as well be friends
‘Cause we’re all in this together
Together till the bitter end

So Happy July 4th.  Enjoy being independent.  Together.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Who Cares?

Somewhere along the line, I”m willing to bet you’ve heard the term fake news. Like the news itself, the term is everywhere these days and over the last 48 hours or so there was an incident around a news story that helps to make a great point about business.

You might have heard about the story CNN got wrong. Actually, we’re not sure that they got it wrong but we do know that they didn’t follow their own protocol for vetting information. The story concerned a claim that Congress was investigating a Russian investment fund with supposed ties to The President. For our purposes today, that’s immaterial. What is important is that CNN, like all professional journalism outlets, has standards in place with respect to the number of sources required to run a story (among other things) and this story didn’t meet them. They ran the story (only on their website – it never made air ) and then retracted it after they realized they hadn’t met their own standards. The reporters who wrote the story resigned.

Those standards are what differentiate professional news organizations from the real “fake news” outlets. You know – people who just make stuff up to further their own purposes or who selectively report certain facts to advance their arguments. Those standards are why The Wall Street Journal dismissed a reporter who was doing secret business deals with one of his contacts. And those standards are our business point today.

I always make it a habit of asking “who cares” when I get information. Whose agenda is served by the news? Who is the source? Are there multiple, independent sources on this or is it just rumor mongering? In the CNN case, I take the incident as a positive. The system worked and whether the story is right or wrong is immaterial. It came from one anonymous source, and that’s just not good enough for a professional organization.

When you get business information, you need a similar system of vetting the story. Who cares that you have the information? Whose agenda is advanced? Asking those sorts of questions can save you from having to issue your own retraction or worse. Make sense?

Leave a comment

Filed under Huh?, Reality checks

One At A Time

Like many of you, I often feel as if I have way too many things on my “to do” list. I’ll often start one task and then segue into another while trying to complete the first. Maybe I’ll read my email mail while I’m talking on the phone or maybe I’ll try to write the screed while I’m thinking of solutions to a client’s problem. My guess is that you make similar attempts to multitask.
Then there are the dummies who multitask at the worst possible times. Texting and driving, for example. The sad fact is that multitasking – even in situations where there aren’t potentially deadly results – does not work. As the American Psychological Association research found:

Psychologists who study what happens to cognition (mental processes) when people try to perform more than one task at a time have found that the mind and brain were not designed for heavy-duty multitasking. Psychologists tend to liken the job to choreography or air-traffic control, noting that in these operations, as in others, mental overload can result in catastrophe.

When we try to begin a new task while performing another, we have to make a mental switch to whatever rules and information will govern the new task. Our brains can’t do two things at once, and that switching means that we’re actually losing time and being less efficient in our attempt to be more efficient. Doing one thing at a time – and finishing it! – helps you get more done. Most importantly, you feel better as you can actually cross something off that “to do” list.

I think we’re all a bit ADD. The non-stop stream of news, email, social pings, and other distractions makes it incredibly hard to focus. I’ll admit to having a shorter attention span than I did 20 years ago, and I don’t think it’s (solely) because my aging brain is less functional. We’ve all become victims of the TL;DR syndrome or, even worse, the Fear Of Missing Out by remaining focused to the exclusion of all those alerts. Everything is too long and we want Cliff’s Notes versions. It’s hard to pay attention to that one task for an extended period, at least it seems so to me. But overcoming that desire to multitask is really the key to getting things done. I’m really going to work harder on it. You?

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints