Tag Archives: business

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?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Generically Speaking

This Foodie Friday, I’ve been thinking about store brands. Some of them – such as the Costco vodka really being Grey Goose at under half the price – are the stuff of legend. Other places – such as Trader Joe’s – have built entire enterprises on top of their own brands which are basically repackaged and rebranded versions of mainstream products. It’s well-known, for example, that TJ’s pita chips are made by Frito-Lay, who puts Stacy’s pita chips in TJ’s packages. Of course, you can buy a  6oz bag of Trader Joe’s Pita Chips for $1.99 whereas a 7.33oz bag of Stacy’s Simply Naked Pita Chips sells for $2.99 or more.

An example of a Trader Joe's storefront.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of Walmart‘s Great Value branded products are just name brands rebranded. Most people can’t tell the difference between the name brand and the store brand, although in fairness, every so often the store will have the manufacturer make a minor change (a little less lemon, a little more salt) so they’re not identical products. Still, In 2012, Consumer Reports did a test. They found:

In comparing store-brand and name-brand versions of 19 products, our savings ranged from 5 percent (frozen lasagna) to 60 percent (ice cream). Many of those store brands were also as tasty as the alternative. Our sensory experts found that the store brand and name brand tied in 10 cases, the name brand won in eight cases, and the store brand won once.

So why do people continue to pay more for the same product? The easy answer is marketing. Name brands spend an awful lot of money each year to influence consumers’ perception of their products. Some of it is mistrust, particularly when it comes to store-branded drugs. Even though the law says that generic medication contains the same active ingredient as the name brand (yes, I know generic brands may have different inactive ingredients that can make them behave differently), people spend more for branded pain relievers, antacids, and other types of drugs. It’s interesting that studies show that chefs and pharmacists tend to buy generic food and drugs, respectively.

I think a good chunk of why people tend to spend the extra money has to do with experience. They expect that a brand name will provide a quality, consistent product experience. In instances where others are seeing what products are being used (guests in your home, coworkers in an office), the brand name is more socially acceptable. Finally, over time, brand names build loyalty. Once again, we end up at the cost/value equation, but we always need to remember that value isn’t just measured in dollars and cents.

I buy a lot of generics or store brands. There are, however, some things for which I pay extra because I do perceive a difference. Still, knowing that most of what’s at Trader Joe’s or Walmart or Costco is the same as what’s at the supermarket (but less expensive!) lets me splurge on those things with a clear conscience. The question for those of us that market is how we get consumers to see the value that goes along with our brand.

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Filed under Consulting, food, Thinking Aloud

How Rude

This Foodie Friday our topic is rudeness. OK, maybe not rudeness per se but whatever it is one would call being brusque with servers in bars, restaurants, grocery stores, and elsewhere. You know what I’m talking about. You probably have a friend who treats the waitstaff as if they are indentured servants rather than food service professionals who work long hours for not a lot of money. Maybe they make ridiculous demands or maybe they manage to find fault with everything that’s sent from the kitchen, causing problems not just for the server but also for the cook who will probably have to refire the dish.

It’s an important business point. When you’re dining out, you’re in a position of power with respect to the servers and, to a lesser extent, the entire kitchen. In an office setting, there are managers who revel in that and they’re the ones whose subordinates can’t wait to find employment elsewhere. No one likes being treated dismissively. The rude manager is probably feeling a need to demonstrate how special (or entitled) they are. To a lesser extent, I think they’re trying to see what they can get away with. Unfortunately, subordinates rarely get the chance to tell the manager’s manager how detrimental this behavior is to the entire team.

I’m not saying we need to be obsequious either to the waitstaff or to our subordinates. I am saying that “please,” “thank you,” and other demonstrations of appreciation (a nice tip to the server, a decent raise if possible to the employee) will get you better results than being demanding and rude. I often wished that I could take every candidate I was thinking of hiring out for a meal, or at least for coffee. You will learn an awful lot about their character, especially if the service really is bad or if their order gets messed up.

One of my bosses told me a long time ago to think about managing as if I were moving a piece of string. If you get behind it and push, it rarely will go where you want. If you get out in front and pull, you can lead it anywhere. Good manners are part of being out in front, whether in a restaurant or an office, don’t you think?

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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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Filed under Helpful Hints, What's Going On

Disasters

Foodie Friday, and the topic is disasters. Like anyone who does a fair amount of cooking, I’ve had my share of disasters in the kitchen over the years. No, I’m not talking about the time I dropped a full pot of soup on the way to the fridge. I mean those times when the best-laid plans of the cook, as Robert Burns said, gang aft agley – often go awry.

In my case, there is a seafood sausage that has become the stuff of legend amongst those who were (un)fortunate enough to have seen it made and attempted to eat it. There was also the time that egg rolls refused to stay rolled and sent the cook (that would have been me) into a utensil throwing rage since I was cooking for my new bride and my parents and was pretty embarrassed.

There is a business point within my true confessions today. First, each of these things was a learning experience. Second, each has become a story that’s been retold over the years. While our main goal in business shouldn’t be to avoid being a bore at cocktail parties, having a few self-effacing tales in your repertoire isn’t a bad thing. The bigger takeaway is the first point.

Disasters are often the result of pushing the envelope. Hopefully, they don’t originate in sloppiness or willful ignorance or haste but rather is boldly going where you’ve never gone before, whether in the office or in the kitchen. When we fail in the latter venue, there is always some take out food we can get to serve. When we fail in the office, we can use the experience to rethink how we plan, how we prepare, and how we execute so that it becomes a teachable moment and not a complete waste. Besides – you just got another great story to tell at the party where you’re celebrating your company’s latest success!

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Slow Play

Another Monday, another golf-related rant. But as with most things golf-related, there are points to be made about life well beyond the links.

An animation of a full golf swing displaying t...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I played a couple of rounds over the weekend (you’re surprised, right?) and both were slow. By slow, I don’t necessarily mean any specific time. It’s more about the general pace of play when compared to the conditions. I also accepted something I have learned about younger (Millenial) golfers. Both have implications for your business.

I’ll admit upfront that I play more quickly than many golfers. I also tend to play early in the morning when the course tends to be empty. When I play 18 holes by myself, it generally takes about two and a quarter hours; two and a half if I’m stinking it up. My regular Sunday game with another gentleman takes up about 2:45 to 3 hours. My regular foursome used to take about three and a half hours. Those are fast times but they’re also times made by doing a few simple things. Keeping up with the group in front of you. Being ready when it’s your turn and not waiting for someone else to hit if they’re behind you but looking for their ball. Lining up your putts while someone else is putting, parking the cart so you never have to walk backward to it, and a few other things that make a few seconds’ difference that add up to many minutes saved in a round.

So what have I learned about many Millenial golfers? I play with them all the time and they are slow. I hate to generalize, but they are. Rather than socializing while traveling between shots, they stand on the tee, staring at an empty fairway, and talk rather than tee off. They are very polite and allow the golfer farthest back to hit even if that golfer isn’t ready. Why aren’t they ready? Another thing: they take forever to make up their minds. They take multiple practice swings. They park both carts together to watch someone hit rather than splitting up, dropping one golfer by their ball and moving on to be ready. In short, they’re not focused on making decisions and on getting things done, and because of that, they fall behind. We played in over four hours yesterday and were never held up once by anyone in front of us. Arrggghh….

What does this have to do with your business? We need to do what faster golfers do. We need to assess the situation, make a decision, and go. We can’t wait on others, we can’t take forever to think, we can’t make endless practice swings (read that as internal meetings and discussions). Golfers have GPS devices and laser yardage readers to help them know where they are on the hole. Businesses have analytics, financial data, and staff meetings.  I’ve yet to play with any golfer who played better because they lollygagged around the course nor have I met many businesspeople who were more successful because they fell behind.

Golfers find a rhythm as they go and so too do businesses. Slow play disrupts that rhythm whether it’s golf or business. The PGA Tour assessed its first slow-play penalty in over twenty years yesterday, this despite 5+hour rounds being routine on tour. That’s ridiculous (and a bad influence on young golfers!). Let’s all speed it up on the course and in the office, ok?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Sampuru

This Foodie Friday, the topic is sampuru. No, you probably don’t call anything by that name but you’ve seen it. It’s the fake food you often see in the lobby or window of Japanese restaurants. Great sampuru is incredibly realistic and can negate the need even to look at a menu. Like many seemingly simple things (such as making the rice for sushi), sampuru artists require years of training.

Typically for this space, as I was thinking about sampuru, a business thought came to me. Fake, plastic food has its business counterpart although they’re not called sampuru. I call them empty suits, but I’m not sure we should limit the term to people.

Your typical empty suit, like great fake food, gives the appearance of being real and nourishing. The reality is that they look great but can be toxic if ingested. In fact, I think they’re easier to spot than great sampuru. Ask an empty suit for an opinion and it will either be the same as either the boss’s or of whomever in the room they’re trying to please if they have an opinion at all. You see, empty suits rarely have enough knowledge about a topic to give a well-reasoned opinion about anything. They may rattle off a number of industry buzzwords but if you try to dissect what it is they’re saying it becomes obvious that, as Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, there’s no there there.

Oddly enough, I think entire businesses can be sampuru. Coincidentally, I ate at a Japanese restaurant the other evening that I would call an empty suit. It looked fine – a sushi bar, teppanyaki tables, etc., but the food was nondescript, the service was lackadaisical, and the teppan chef I saw was just barely going through the motions. It was a sampuru – a plastic model of a business that looked like the real thing but wasn’t even close to being it.

We need to make sure our businesses don’t fall into the trap of being sampuru – of looking like we’re fresh and flourishing when, in fact, we’re dead and toxic. As executives, we need to stay informed and not be afraid to offer our own opinions about things. We’ll be wrong sometimes but by being true to ourselves maybe we’ll also advance the conversation to new, more profitable ground. You with me?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud