Tag Archives: business thinking

Wanting And Needing

If you hang around the candy aisle of the supermarket long enough, I can pretty much guarantee you that you’ll hear some kid yell at their parent that they “need it” with a large bag of candy in their hand. At that moment, I think the kid believes it. Hopefully, the parent explains the difference between “needing” and “wanting”. Hopefully, that’s something you can recognize in your business life too.

A need is something you must have to survive. As humans, water, food, and shelter are about the extent of those needs (I put clothing and warmth under the shelter heading). As a business, the fundamental need is to make a profit. Without that, no business can survive over the long term. In order to make those profits, you need money coming in, which means you also need customers who will pay you for your product or service. As with any need, once we have satisfied it we can move on to the “want.” You want customers who are happy so they stick around. You want customers who are pleasant so you can interact with them without drama. You need to have people working with you who are loyal and knowledgeable so they support your customers. You want them to stick around for the long term at a reasonable cost to the business.

The hard part for me when I began consulting was that I think I probably spent too much effort helping clients get the wants and not enough time focused on the needs. Rookie mistake, one I don’t make now. I’m not surprised when a client and I get into the need/want discussion and there is a bit of a disconnect. With early-stage companies especially, you have to get the needs shored up.

I try to focus on telling clients what they need to hear, which is not necessarily what they want to hear (see what I did there?). I did the same when I was part of a larger organization, sometimes to my detriment, I’ll admit. I did learn that the people who can hear things that are true but sometimes unpleasant are the ones with whom you want to work. They have learned that the bag of candy is a want, but those wants might not be affordable or necessary. They might even be detrimental. Make sense?

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Finding The Black Swan

Many centuries ago, people were convinced that there were no such things as black swans. That thinking is so old, in fact, that there are references to it in Roman literature. That thinking was disproven around 1700 when a group of explorers sighted some black swans in Australia.

Since then, the term “black swan” is used to refer to something that, as Wikipedia states:

comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.

If you’re in business, I’m sure you’re familiar with black swans even if you’ve never called them by that name. My team often used the Monty Python quote that “NO-body expects the Spanish Inquisition!” when something surprising would happen.

I don’t think of Black Swans as negatives, necessarily. In fact, it’s exactly the sort of rare bird we should be seeking in business on many levels. For example, you’ve read many times in this space about the need to understand your customer. If you’re approaching them with an open mind, what you might find can be surprising. You might find, say, that your ad that’s aspirational in nature might have the exact opposite effect on your audience – it reminds them of what they don’t have and makes them mad.

Where I find Black Swans particularly useful is in negotiating. It’s critical to understand the needs and wants of the person with whom you’re negotiating and to get on the same side of the desk as they are, meaning you’re not in an adversarial position. In the process of doing that discovery, you often find a Black Swan – something you didn’t know about them or about something that’s part of their bottom line for the negotiation. Every party in a negotiation has a bottom line – things they can’t or won’t give up – while other things are far more fungible. Unless and until you can understand what those things are, you’re wasting time. If you find a Black Swan in the process, it’s important that you incorporate it unless it crosses your bottom line.

Part of finding the Black Swan is keeping an open mind, whether it’s in negotiating or in reading data or even in a brainstorming session. Be open to possibilities even if they don’t match your current understanding of the world. The Black Seans are out there – find them!

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Conducting

Did you play in your school’s band or orchestra? Maybe you sang in the chorus? I did all of those as well as in the school’s jazz band. If you did, you came face to face with a conductor. For those of you unfamiliar with how a conductor operates, I’ll spend a few words on the topic. For those of you already familiar, please keep reading because those hours spent under their baton can tell you a lot about business.

Whether you played in an ensemble or just listened, you’ve seen a conductor at work. Their right hand, usually the one holding the baton, keeps time. Their left hand, the far more expressive one, serves many purposes; among them cueing various instruments, helping the musicians understand the dynamic you want to project or the phrasing you’re after.

One of my childhood memories is of seeing Leonard Bernstein conducting the NY Philharmonic. He conducted the orchestra in a way that was a cross between dancing as a listener and working hard as a musician. There is no doubt, if you watch old videos of him, what he is trying the get from his musicians. That’s not true of all conductors.

What you probably never thought of is how anticipatory conducting really is. It begins in rehearsal, where the conductor will often stop and explain what he or she is after. The musicians are learning what each gesture means and they get a sense of the speed and phrasing the conductor wants. It’s assumed the musicians already know the notes and heaven help the musician who causes the conductor to stop and demand the musician play a phrase the conductor heard as wrong. It also means the conductor is a few beats ahead of his musicians so he can cue them, hopefully in a way that also tells them how he wants the upcoming music played.

What does this have to do with business? A lot. I always looked at my role as being similar to an orchestra leader. My job was to bring coherence to a large, diverse group of executives who played very different roles. I kept time with one hand, meaning that I set goals for the entire group and established how we’d get there. With the other hand, I let individual elements within the group know when to speak up. Most importantly, we rehearsed. No, I didn’t have my group do things just for the sake of doing them. I did, however, ask them a lot of questions to make sure they knew the music and that when it came time for them to be front and center they would shine. I was careful to be clear about what I wanted and about what I meant when I asked for something. I was also a few beats ahead at all times.

Watch some of the great conductors. Bernstein, Loren Maazel, Seiji Ozawa, and others. There are some great business lessons there, don’t you think?

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Mageirocophobia

It’s Foodie Friday and today we’re going to address what for some people is a debilitating problem: mageirocophobia. I know – how can I think about something I can’t even pronounce? Well, hopefully, it’s not something you think about at all, but it might just get you thinking about something that goes on in your business life, so read on.

Mageirocophobia is the fear of cooking. Yes, such a thing exists. It can take many forms and even experienced cooks might have a little of it. For some folks, they’re fine cooking for themselves but the thought of cooking for a large group – a party, a large family gathering – can become a problem. Maybe that’s when they opt for a caterer, telling themselves that they’ll be busy preparing the house when in fact they’re afraid of failing. For some people, they’re afraid to cook for others or their children, worried that they’ll poison them by serving undercooked food. In other cases, it’s a simple fear that what they’ll serve will be inedible, or at least bad enough to cause ridicule. Some people are just afraid of the entire process – sharp knives and hot pans can cause cuts and burns (I know that from personal experience!).

As with most fears, a fear of cooking is really a reflection of other things going on such as a strong need for approval or a fear of failure. It can cause people to do odd things such as never serving chicken to guests or insisting on overcooking pork. Some people I know are terrified by sharp knives and the blades in their kitchens are always dull which, as any good cook knows, causes more accidents than sharp knives do.

Some of us do the same thing in business. A decade ago I wrote a post that asked each of us to consider if our fears in business are rational? Fear of failing is not irrational but it can be debilitating. We listen to the negative voice in our head that tells us we can’t do something and we’ll be a laughingstock when we fail. We play it safe. We take the safe route and don’t push to scale quickly, avoiding new markets or products. Ultimately, as with the fearful cook, we miss out on pleasure as we avoid pain.

I’ve made my share of mistakes in both the kitchen and the office. I try to learn from each one and move on. We all have a bit of fear in new and difficult situations – we’d not be human if we didn’t. We need, however, to push through our fears if we’re ever going to achieve our goals, don’t you agree?

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Foodie Friday After The Fourth

While in theory today is a workday, I’m pretty sure most folks have continued the July 4th holiday straight through. In the spirit of being as lazy as the rest of you relaxing over this lovely break, I’m reporting a Foodie Friday post from a past holiday weekend. It was Memorial Day of 2008 (yes, I’ve been at this that long) and what I wrote then still makes sense to me. How about to you?

This weekend sees the celebration of the Memorial Day holiday here is the US. Traditionally, this weekend marks the start of Summer (OK, maybe that’s July 4th but I love Summer, so…) and that means it’s time to fire up the smoker. While one can achieve great BBQ on everything from a Weber kettle to rigs costing thousands, my preferred weapon of choice is the Bandera, which used to be made by The New Braunfels Company.English: Image of a propane smoker in use. Dia...

We had a bunch of folks over to enjoy ribs, smoked turkey, beer can chicken, the odd bit of smoked bratwurst (I couldn’t find a Hebrew National baloney to smoke which, as an aside, is the closest thing I know of to meat candy when spiced and smoked). The thing they all were wondering about was why does good “Q” take so long. Those of you with a love of smoked meat know that “low and slow is the way to go” and that getting the temperature in the smoker above 225 F is a formula for shoe leather.

Which, of course, got me thinking about how many people seem to do business today. Just as one cannot make BBQ in the microwave, fixing problems via the proverbial microwave for a quick fix is, in my mind, not getting you where you need to go. Now, some folks insist on cooking ribs for 8 hours; I think I’ve proven you can have damn good results in 3.5 – 4. However, I am talking about using the right tools, taking the right amount of time, and, if you can, using the guidance of someone who has been there before (I ruined a lot of racks and quite a few briskets in my day until I got it figured out).

There is a Slow food Movement of which you may be aware and I love what they have to say. However, sometimes you’re late for work and DO need to toast that Pop-Tart and go (eeew). Sometimes problems won’t wait. But I think many operations would be a lot better off if they made the quick fix the exception rather than the rule.

And now I’m off to enjoy some leftovers!

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Reading The Declaration

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?

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Can We Distinguish Fact From Fiction?

How good are you at distinguishing fact from fiction? As I’ve written before, I think that is one of the two most important things anyone can learn in their professional (and personal) lives, with the ability to express your thinking clearly orally and in writing being the other. The folks over at The Pew Research Center studied whether members of the public can recognize news as factual – something that’s capable of being proved or disproved by objective evidence – or as an opinion that reflects the beliefs and values of whoever expressed it. The results aren’t particularly surprising but they also are a good reminder to any of us in business.

First, the results. I’m summarizing here but you really should read the entire study – it’s fascinating and gets to a lot of what’s going on in the country today:

The main portion of the study, which measured the public’s ability to distinguish between five factual statements and five opinion statements, found that a majority of Americans correctly identified at least three of the five statements in each set. But this result is only a little better than random guesses. Far fewer Americans got all five correct, and roughly a quarter got most or all wrong. Even more revealing is that certain Americans do far better at parsing through this content than others. Those with high political awareness, those who are very digitally savvy and those who place high levels of trust in the news media are better able than others to accurately identify news-related statements as factual or opinion…Republicans and Democrats were more likely to classify both factual and opinion statements as factual when they appealed most to their side.

In other words, confirmation bias comes in quite a bit of the time.  I raise this because I think it happens all the time in business as well. We receive data that doesn’t support the direction in which we’re taking the business but we reject it as biased. We get complaints from customers but dismiss them as opinion even when there are facts to support the customer’s unhappiness. It all comes back to what the study measured – many of us can’t distinguish fact from fiction.

We need to pay attention to the source of what we’re hearing. Does the data come from an unbiased, third party or is it an opinion? Is the person who is telling you something doing so based on first-hand experience or are they just repeating something they’ve heard elsewhere? Do multiple sources independently report the same information (not quoting one another, in other words) or are you basing a business decision on a single source? If you’ve spent any time in business, you know that even “trusted” sources – your analytics, your financial reports and others – can be manipulated. Always seek the unvarnished, fact-based truth and learn to ignore opinion unless it’s labeled as such. It’s hard to do that, but you’re up to the task, right?

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Filed under Reality checks, Consulting, Huh?