Tag Archives: business thinking

Top Posts Of 2018 #2

This is the second most-read post written in 2018. I wrote it following the passing of my uncle, the husband of my only aunt and my godmother. The post is about being willing to be surprised and to be wrong. What I found out about him changed a view I had held for many years. Since then, I’ve reminded myself constantly that what you think you know today might be completely wrong tomorrow and I try to behave accordingly as I run my business and consult with clients. Enjoy!

My uncle passed away last week. He was married to my mother’s sister and, obviously, wasn’t a young man. Still, a loved one’s death is never easy and due to a lengthy illness, this one was especially hard. I flew to Florida to attend his funeral and to offer love and support to my aunt and cousins. If you’ve ever sat with folks who’ve experienced a loss, maybe you’ve had a similar experience to what went on. There was much talking and reminiscing about my uncle and many old family memories were shared with a mixture of laughter and sadness.

My uncle was a man I’d known my entire life and yet during the time spent chatting I learned something I’d never known. There was a book on my aunt’s table. In it were poems that my uncle had written over the years, mostly to her. It turned out he had also written a play. I was very surprised by this since my uncle was a rather vocal prognosticator on whatever topic happened to be at hand. Sports, in particular, was something about which he was never at a loss for an opinion. He was in an odd way a less knowledgeable Howard Cosell and although he was frequently wrong he was never deterred from speaking his mind. The fact that he had written love poetry to his wife was not exactly something that I thought he’d be doing.

The point of this is to remind each of us that no matter how well we think we know a topic or a person we need to keep an open mind and a readiness to be surprised. If someone had told me that my uncle was a playwright I’d have thought they were joking. That fact that I saw his poetry reminded me how little I really knew or understood about him.

Be willing to be wrong. Accept that there are things you don’t know and seek them out. Get as many facts as you can. Oddly, my uncle would often opine without having some key facts at hand. Even so, it’s his last message to me as expressed through the existence of his poetry that was probably the best thing he ever said to me. Does it resonate with you too?

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Top Posts Of 2018 #3

It has become an end of year tradition here in the screed that I use the time between Christmas and New Year to post the most-read posts written during this past year. You guys did a lot of reading – traffic was up 17% this year over last. Thank you!

Today I’m posting the third most-read post. Tomorrow will be #2. On Friday you’ll see the most-read Foodie Friday post and Monday will be the most-read of the year. Today’s post was written last August following my daughter’s wedding. It’s about decision-making, which is a hard thing for many people. Maybe that’s something to put on the resolution list I just know you’re writing now?

I had one of those wonderful Dad moments over the weekend. We walked our youngest daughter down the aisle to meet her true love under the wedding canopy. It’s one of those moments that really don’t hit you until you’re standing there at the back looking down the aisle. In my case, 28 years of this child’s (now woman’s) life came flooding back in a rush. I wonder what the pictures captured as we walked her forward?

Of course, the 48 hours preceding the wedding were a minor nightmare as family, friends, and others hustled to transform a huge empty space into a magical circus that could seat 130 for dinner as well as for the wedding ceremony. Place settings, table and site decorations, room for aerialists and fire-breathers (I’m not kidding), as well as dancing and food all needed to be pulled together. And that’s what leads to today’s screed because the entire process reminded me of one thing.

Nothing happens without someone making a decision. That sounds awfully basic but it almost crippled us as we set the wedding up. First, no one was really in charge and empowered to have the final call. Does the salad plate sit on the table or on the dinner plate? 10-minute discussion. Where should the dessert bar go? 10-minute discussion. Silverware rolled into napkins or placed separately? 10-minute discussion. Meanwhile, a dozen helpers are sitting idle and the clock is ticking.

It’s critical that decisions get made. It’s critical that there be firm deadlines set by which they’ll get made and that someone is empowered to make the decision at that deadline if one hasn’t been reached in some other way. The team needs to have a roadmap, a project plan with milestones. It’s a guide which can limit distractions (and emergency trips to the store!). Don’t go chasing every shiny object that presents itself and keep to the deadlines you set. Appoint a “benevolent monarch” whose word is law when those deadlines come.

As with most productions, there were things that didn’t go as planned and, as with most productions, no one in the audience noticed. The bride was gorgeous, the drinks were cold, and the dance floor crowded. The most important decision did get made: for two people to spend their lives together. We were all just lucky enough to watch that marriage happen. You, however, can’t run your business just on luck. Make some decisions!

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Seven New Fishes

This is the last Foodie Friday post before Christmas and I’m writing it while sitting on a train heading north. Seven years ago (how is this for synergy), I wrote a piece about the Seven Fishes. You’ll read the original piece below.  In addition to the original business point it makes, this train ride is adding a corollary. With spotty wifi, I have quite a bit of time to reflect. One thing I’m anticipating is that while my family has its own holiday traditions, this year will be different. My sister has moved far away, so no Christmas morning with her family. We welcomed a new person into our family officially this past summer so the core family itself is different. The gifts have become less important; the family time way more so.

To put the end at the beginning, questioning why we do things in business needs to be done with the knowledge that like it or not, change is constant. We might as well control the change and not react to it. To those of you celebrating, Merry Christmas. To those of you just eating, enjoy.

Our Foodie Friday theme today is La Vigilia, the Christmas Eve tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes.  Now what, you might ask, does a nice Jewish boy know about such things?  Well, having spent a great deal of my youth around my best friend’s Italian mother and grandmother while they cooked, I know quite a bit.  I know that they started to prepare this feast several days in advance, as they put salt cod into water to hydrate it (there was a running battle about using milk to do that).  I know that they spent many hours over the subsequent days preparing all manner of seafood – fried, broiled, and baked.  And I know that it all was mind-blowingly good.

There’s one thing I didn’t know, and still don’t, about the Feast:  what does it represent?  Everyone knows it came as a southern Italian tradition and there are lots of theories about the number 7.  But apparently no one knows for sure and that’s the business point to end the week.

All too often in business, we do things because that’s the way they’ve always been done.  When we ask why or what does it mean, there is much head-scratching and often there’s uncertainty but both are generally followed with a shrug of the shoulders and a supposition that someone higher up wanted it that way.  I used to tell new employees that they possessed a rare commodity: fresh eyes with which to examine all of our business traditions.  They were not supposed to take “because that’s how we’ve always done it” as a satisfactory answer if something didn’t make sense to them.  Sometimes as we dug down into the “why” we figured out a better “how.”

I’m not sure it’s important that we understand the “why” of La Vigilia, but that’s an exception.  In business, everything changes pretty rapidly and the traditional ways may no longer work.  Questioning the reasons why we do certain things is a critical item on the path to success and we should encourage it.

And now, it’s off to go find some fresh fish.  Buon Natale!

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Faddie Friday!

It’s Foodie Friday and the topic today is really Faddie Friday. What got me thinking about food fads was hearing yet another discussion about keto diets. You know – low carb, no carb, no fun. I’ve been doing a variant of this for many years (and lost a lot of weight) but it actually goes back to the invention of the Atkins Diet in 1972. I’m not a full-blown keto person but I do watch my carbs and try to cut out sugar and foods that I know are high on the glycemic index.

Atkins is far from the only food fad. At one time, fondue was all the rage. I’ll bet if you dig deep enough into a closet or your garage you’ll find a fondue set, maybe one your mom handed down. Nothing like a communal bowl of hot cheese, wine, and seasonings, right?

Now we have fads such as juice cleansing, kale, and bacon, which down here in the South is not so much a fad as it is a way of life. What’s interesting to me is that fads aren’t the same thing as trends. You can think of it in business terms. Fads are those two-day blips in your revenue while trends are the steady direction of those revenues. Fads are jagged, trends are smooth. Food fad – kale. Food trend – healthier eating. Got it?

You need to think in those terms as you approach your business and how you run it. I’ve lived through several management fads and they weren’t all as benign as kale. Ever hear of Six Sigma? How about Business Process Re-Engineering? Matrix Management? Or one of my absolute favorites, MBO – Management By Objectives. Even though it was created by one of my favorite management people, Peter Drucker, it was cumbersome, time-wasting, and not quick enough to react. Obviously, I agree with much of the thinking behind it but the actual implementation could bog you down.

I bring all of these up (and it’s far from an exhaustive list) to remind each of us that we have to watch out for fads. I was told by a senior executive many years ago that the internet was both a fad and a scam. He had a little trouble figuring out the difference between a fad and a fundamental change. Take the time to distinguish between the two and you’ll be far better off than those who don’t. Make sense?

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Thank You For Your Service

Yesterday was Veteran’s Day. I don’t typically post on Sundays but I did want to honor all of those who served by putting out something, even if a day late. This is my post from 2009 (yes, I’ve been at this for quite a while) and I like it as much now as I did then. Thank you for your service if you served and please remember to thank a vet, even if it’s a day late.

Today is Veteran’s Day, a holiday which was created to commemorate the end of “The War To End All Wars.” While that part didn’t work out so well, it’s a worthy celebration of our men and women who have served and are serving in the Armed Forces. My Dad is one of those vets. He fought – as Archie Bunker used to say – in The Big One – WW2. And while he’s taught me a lot over the years, he and his fellow vets teach us another really valuable business lesson to go along with all the others.

Veterans Day 2007 poster from the United State...
My father got out of high school and went into the service like most of the young men (and many young women) of his generation.  They put their country ahead of themselves realizing that the answer to “what’s in it for me” lay in the preservation of the principles on which this country was founded and which made everything else in their lives possible.

The really inelegant analogy I want to make has to do with how we approach business.  While the stakes in business aren’t nearly what they were and are for the vets, there are still people making that same decision today both in and out of business.  That decision is to put something else – your customers in the case of business, your country in the case of vets – ahead of yourself.  I’ve written a lot about everything from lousy customer service to marketing messages that shout “me me me” and not “you you you.”  That’s so 1999, isn’t it?

Converse, don’t spew.  Listen, don’t talk.  If I can’t get you to engage in a conversation and put others first because it’s smart, how about to salute the vets?

Any takers?

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The $2 Difference

This Foodie Friday sees us trying to answer the all-important question about whether to tip on the pre- or post-tax amount of the check. I suppose in some ways this falls into the category of “is a hot dog a sandwich?” but it has practical implications for the people on the receiving end of those tips, your waitstaff.

The thought for this was put in my head by an ongoing column on The Takeout, called Ask The Salty Waitress. Rather than getting caught up in the philosophical arguments for and against tipping off the taxed amount, she does something that I have often urged people in business to do: look at the practical and not at the hypothetical. She takes us through the math of the financial implications of tipping each way. In the end, it amount s to a $2 difference in a high tax area on a $100 check. Her feeling – and mine – is that the $2 probably means a lot more to the tippee that to the person eating out in a nice place.

This happens in business all the time. I’ve seen dozens of times when a meeting devolves into a heated argument over something in a contract. Everyone is standing on their principles but neglecting the real world. Often, when you can get the meeting to focus on the actual differences of conceding a point and getting something done vs. standing on principle and prolonging the discussion, the actual differences are actually pretty insubstantial, like the $2 tip.

Call me a pragmatist or call me someone who prefers to spend his time on things that warrant it, but my first instinct is always to figure out what the real outcomes are. If the result of taking either path is to have you end up in pretty much the same place then I’m taking the path of least resistance. You?

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Going Negative

It’s a bit less than a week before Election Day and I, for one, can’t wait for the elections to be over. That will mean that the political ads will end too, and that can’t happen soon enough.

Putting aside politics, the vast bulk of these ads are horrible marketing. One thing that marketers learned long ago doesn’t work is badmouthing your competition; yet damn near every ad I see across the multitude of channels I watch and stream is 30 seconds of negativity. These folks spend their allotted time distorting positions, taking things out of context, and flat-out lying in many cases. The candidate-produced ads are bad and the PAC-produced ads are even worse. You’d think they’d stop. In 2007, the Journal Of Politics did a study of negative ads. They found:

…that negative ads tended to be more memorable than positive ones but that they did not affect voter choice. People were no less likely to turn out to the polls or to decide against voting for a candidate who was attacked in an ad.

While campaign consultants seem to think that these ads work, science proves otherwise. Of course, there are many folks out there who don’t believe in science but that’s another screed…

It’s bad marketing. Going negative makes you look petty and unprofessional. Playing up your strengths always works better than bashing a competitor’s weaknesses. Good marketers explain how they are going to solve your problems. I think good politicians should do that too. I don’t want “small” people representing me. If you can’t run on your positions and your solutions, then how am I to trust that you can outperform the one running against you?

This applies to your business as well, obviously. Do you see a lot of non-political negative ads? No, you don’t. There are many good reasons for that. Do you see a lot of false claims in non-political ads? You sure don’t – there are laws against it. The FTC Act prohibits unfair or deceptive advertising in any medium. That is, advertising must tell the truth and not mislead consumers. A claim can be misleading if relevant information is left out or if the claim implies something that’s not true. It seems to me that many political ads do just that, unfortunately.

Politicians may be brands, but they sure don’t advertise as if they were. Going negative isn’t particularly helpful in non-political marketing and it’s just as bad in politics. That’s one man’s opinion. What’s yours?

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