Tag Archives: life lessons

Bourdain

This is a tough way to end our week with a food-related post here on Foodie Friday. As you’ve probably heard by now, Anthony Bourdain committed suicide in his Paris hotel room yesterday. For those of us who loved his use of food as a way to explore and understand this world of ours, it’s a massive loss. Sure, there are other programs that attempt to do what he did, but none as literate nor as beautifully executed.

The question to which we’ll never have an answer is “why.” Here is a person who seemingly “had it all” despite rough patches in his life: drug addiction and failed marriages among them. His successes should have outweighed his failures and yet something inside him made him end it all.

I’ve written before on suicide. Back in 2015, a friend of mine killed himself. His life had spiraled downhill physically, financially, and personally. It was a lot easier to grasp why he did what he did than it is with Bourdain. In that post, I quoted something I had written 2 years prior and I want to state it again:

We all know a person who displays symptoms of things not being right in their lives. Those symptoms could come in the form of substance abuse or a big weight gain. Maybe their personality has changed – gone from light to dark. If you care about that person, you probably think about a way to say something that asks about what’s going on. It’s hard – people have feelings, after all and they are probably just as aware as you are of what they’re doing. Probably more so.  The ensuing discussion can be hard for both of you.  Sometimes it can derail a friendship.  More often, it begins a healing process, but only if you care enough to say something.

I don’t know if those closest to Tony knew he had a darkness overcoming his light. Maybe you do know someone who has that issue. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is  1-800-273-8255. They also have live chat. Help your friend get help.

I’ll miss Bourdain’s acerbic insights. I’ll miss the snarky personality that contrasted with his big heart. Both came through loud and clear in his work. What didn’t, neither in his work nor, it seems, in his friendships, was something fundamentally wrong that drove him to something this desperate. He once said:

“We ask very simple questions: What makes you happy? What do you eat? What do you like to cook? And everywhere in the world we go and ask these very simple questions,” he said, “we tend to get some really astonishing answers.”

Maybe someone should have asked him, particularly the first one.

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No Applause, Please

There is a solitaire game that I play on my phone. When you “win”, you get a round of applause most of the time. Sometimes, you don’t. There is just silence, probably because you didn’t solve the hand quickly enough. In a weird way, the lack of applause feels as if you’ve not won if that makes any sense.

That, in microcosm, is a very dangerous thing, both in business and in life. Expecting applause for work well done creates expectations that are infrequently met, and that leads to all sorts of bad places. Anger, frustration, and jealousy all begin to rear their ugly heads as some members of the team begin to compare the applause they receive with that others receive. It may not be literal applause but everything from mentions in a staff meeting to promotions to raises all count.

I’m not against giving applause – far from it. I’ve worked for bosses who made it clear that almost no applause would be forthcoming because they believed that employees were fungible. When applause was given, either literally or figuratively, it generally went to the higher-ups and not to the folks who really were responsible for the good work. As managers and teammates, we need to do what we can to support those who deserve recognition (I’m not in favor of “participation awards” for everyone, though). What I do approach with caution is the expectation we have that we’re going to receive some figurative love when it’s warranted.

Doing what you do for the applause creates false expectations. It makes us buy into a belief system that may not be our own. For example, you may not care about making a lot of money but when you see others doing so who do less or inferior work, you may wonder why you’re not getting rich too. People get “rich” in all sorts of ways. Teachers, ministers, first-responders and many others generally aren’t well-paid nor do they get much applause on a daily basis. Most of the folks I know who work in those professions have adjusted their thinking to take satisfaction in their own accomplishments and not in others’ recognition of those things. They spend their lives doing good work and not seeking applause. How about you?

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Filed under Reality checks, Helpful Hints

Why Is Right So Hard?

A long post today – please bear with me. I’m sure you have heard about the cancellation of Roseanne after the show’s namesake sent out a racist tweet. There was about a two-hour delay from when the tweet went public until ABC pulled the plug on the program. During that time, I wondered if ABC and parent company Disney would do the right thing. They did and it’s a great example to any of us in business about something that I’m passionate about.

You know we don’t do politics here. This isn’t political – it’s all business, people. Let’s look at this from a business perspective and let me explain why I’m so proud to be an ABC alumnus today.

First, the business background. This piece from Variety explains the issues ABC has had for years on Tuesday nights. In Roseanne, they finally had not only a hit program but a show around which they could build a solid night of programming. While they had not reaped a huge financial windfall from the show (it was a midseason replacement), they were poised to use it in the negotiations for ad time during the upcoming season. The way things work is that if you want to buy a hit you generally have to buy other programming too to get the best pricing. In other words, the loss is more about what might have been rather than existing dollars. Still, it is a financial hit.

Which leads me to the point about which I’m passionate. ABC made a decision to do the right thing no matter the financial cost or how disruptive it may be to their business. I’m sure they also looked to the potential cost to the Disney brand if they were to give tacit approval to what Roseanne tweeted by doing nothing. They looked to the long-term and to take action in accordance with their own principles and not the easy road. While there is never a good time for something like this to take place, this is probably about the worst possible time, given that the upfront selling season is beginning and ABC just announced their schedule, which will now have to be remade, two weeks ago.

Why is it so hard for companies to do the right thing? A heck of a lot don’t. Insurance companies who spend more effort finding ways to deny claims than to pay them.  Oil companies who fund fake studies to promote climate change denial rather than working to find clean energy. Food and tobacco companies that know about the problems with their products but who fight efforts to make the public aware. Those are just a few examples and I’m sure you can think of many more.

Contrast ABC’s quick, decisive action with other media companies who protected bad behavior by big-time talent. It didn’t require multiple meetings or in-depth analysis. The right course of action was obvious. I’d argue it was as well in other recent cases where the company failed to do the right thing. Equifax knew they had a hacking problem months before they told the public. In that time, executives may have sold $1.8 Billion in shares. Someone at Wells Fargo must have come up with the plan to charge half a million consumers for insurance they didn’t need. Why didn’t someone say “oh hell no” and fire the person on the spot? Even Apple failed to do the right thing by not telling customers it was slowing down their phones even though customers asked.

Any of these things could have been prevented if the businesspeople involved had acted honorably. By that, I mean in a way that would stand up to public scrutiny when measured against ethical and moral standards. Someone knew, someone could have nipped it in the bud, and someone could have used it as a teaching moment to explain why doing the right thing is important.

I know not everyone shares exactly the same standards, but I do believe that placing customers’ needs about profits, thinking long-term, and behaving as if the customer were your Mom or Dad rather than a “mark” is better than maximizing revenue. Shareholder value comes from long-term customers with high lifetime values and a sterling reputation. You get those by opting to do the right thing.

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What Are Your Limits?

What can’t you do? If you’re a child of my children‘s generation, you’ve probably been told since you were born that you can do anything. You have no limits. Does anyone really believe that’s true – that there isn’t anything we can’t do if we try really hard and practice a lot?

As you know if you’ve spent any time in this space, I play golf. I’m not horrible at it although I’m far from really good. I do practice and I might just try too hard. That said, there are shots I just can’t hit and never will be able to despite knowing how to do so and practicing them (you go ahead and hit that 225-yard shot over water and a bunker into a tight pin on a narrow green without landing in trouble).

Knowing your limits is important both in life and in business. We all want to help the team but learning to say “no” when you’re asked to take on more work than you can possibly do well really IS helping. Everyone hits the wall at some point and taking on too many projects or work that you’re not qualified to do well is a great way to hit it bang on.

Many ski areas have signs that remind you to ski within your limits. There is a sign at Bethpage Black, a golf course which has hosted the U.S. Open, that, in essence, asks you to know your limitations as a golfer and respect them.

Many people want to learn and to grow. Most people want to take on a new challenge. While you do need to push your limits to do this, at the same time, you need to be conscious of your abilities and approach any new goals appropriately. In golf or skiing, we can take lessons. How many businesspeople invest in courses to improve their skills?

In skiing and riding, we wear protective gear. The problem is that sometimes we get a false sense of security and push too far. In business, we rely on data from dodgy sources or only those surveys that tell us what we want to hear to give us that same false sense. Instead of recognizing the limits of the information, we believe it.

I’ve been playing the guitar since I was 10. I still can’t play like Clapton or Page despite well over 10,000 hours of practice. It may be some sort of physical ability I don’t have which they do. Then again, I probably have some mental abilities that have let me learn many skills they don’t have. Learning what you can and can’t do even with practice, instruction, and perseverance is key, and accepting those limitations, disheartening as it can be, can help make you better, not worse. Does that make sense?

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Taking The Temperature

Foodie Friday! As much as I’d like to write about Pimento Cheese on this Masters’ Friday, I have a business thought that comes from an article I read on whipped cream. The folks at Cook’s Illustrated, about which I’ve written before, have a science page as part of their website. On it, they present the results of their ongoing tests into food preparation and one of the things they investigated was the old saw that you have to start with cold cream if you’re whipping the cream to stiff peaks.

The short answer is that yes, temperature matters and the colder your cream (and bowl and beaters) the better. You get much better results that way – a higher volume and much less whipping time to get the results you want. In fact, cream at room temperature never really got to stiff peaks at all. As I read the piece it occurred to me that the kitchen isn’t the only place where the environment matters.

You don’t have to look very far into the business world to find companies that produce excellent results because the management creates optimal conditions for the team to do so. I’ve worked in places where I’ve seen two similar departments produce very different results based on how the managers treated the staff. I wouldn’t say that one department had very different levels of skill or intelligence but it did have some managers that created the best conditions possible for success. They outlined the group’s goals clearly. They were supportive and encouraging. They didn’t hesitate to praise great work (and publicly!) and they very quietly made sure that the underperformers knew they were not meeting the standards of the group. The people in the group weren’t impersonal names on a page. They had personal relationships with each person and communicated effectively with each person. They led by example and didn’t hold themselves above the group or to a different standard of behavior.

Creating the right conditions for success really is the only job a manager has. Much like making sure the cream, beaters, and bowl are cold, they make it easy for the team to produce the best possible outcomes with the least effort and drama. Doesn’t that sound like a plan?

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But You Got To Have Friends

According to Facebook, I have 388 friends. One very social member of my family has over 1,300. I suspect that in her case, and I’m quite sure that in mine, that some of those “friends” couldn’t pick you out of a lineup, so one might speculate as to how real the friendship is.

There is a much easier and yet way harsher method for figuring out the whole friendship thing. First, ask yourself who routinely interacts with you off social media. Then ask yourself of that group who does so when they don’t need anything from you. After that, you can ask yourself who from that much smaller group will return your call when YOU need something and, even more importantly, who will actually help you. We’re now approaching your real friend count.

Here is the good news. You don’t really need all that many friends. This report from AOL.com goes back to 2016:

According to new research, you only need five friends in your life. British psychologist, Robin Dunbarm breaks down our friendships into layers.

The top layer consists of a spouse or best friend that you interact with daily. The next includes up to four people — that you care about and require weekly attention to maintain the relationship. The layers after that are made up of mere acquaintances.

Why the rant about friendship today? Because those few real friends are the key to your business success. They provide two of the parts of Maslow’s Hierarchy that allow you to function productively. They are your sounding board. They can, as they have in my case, help you grow your business by providing contact with potential clients (every client I’ve ever had, save for one, is as a result of a friendship, either directly or indirectly).

The Michael Corleone character in The Godfather says “My father taught me many things here — he taught me in this room. He taught me — keep your friends close but your enemies closer.” I get his meaning – understand those who would do you harm and pay constant attention to them – but I disagree about the closer part. Find your few true friends, both inside and outside of business, and pay them as much attention as you do anything. Your business will benefit and so will you. Make sense?

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You’re Naked

One of the things that can kill you in business is believing your own BS. As a former salesperson (we are really ever NOT salespeople?), that’s hard to admit, but let me explain what I mean. Let’s look at our products and services first and then let’s take a look at ourselves.

I know what I’m good at and what services I can provide. I also know my limitations. When I speak with potential clients, I’m very upfront about both of those things. It’s about setting expectations and not overpromising. If someone needs help, for example, with art, I’m not your guy. If they want help understanding UX, however, I can help. Need basic SEO work? I can do it. Need a lot of backend coding? Not from me, you don’t.

If you sell anything, it has limitations. Failing to acknowledge them leads to underdelivery and that leads to failure. If you can’t recognize and admit where the boundaries are, you’ve got a problem.

The same principle holds for us as managers. The higher up we go, the more we have people around us who are unwilling to criticize or challenge us. While our responsibility gets larger, our circles get smaller. In some cases, a leader makes it a point to eliminate anyone who contradicts their own view of themselves. I always felt this was inversely proportionate to the executive’s strength as a leader. I’ve worked for bosses who welcomed challenges to their opinions and for some who wouldn’t tolerate and dissent. Needless to say, the staff would kill for the former and abandoned the latter as soon as they got a chance.

I read this about former President Obama and his interactions with an unnamed musical artist on the basketball court:

When asked what he could learn about someone from playing basketball with him, Obama talked about self-awareness—singling out “a singer, a musical artist” whom he once played a pick-up game with, someone who was “ballin’” and came “with an entourage,” but utterly sucked on the court. “His shot was broke… he had no self-awareness and thought he was good,” Obama said. “He surrounded himself with people who told him he was good, even though he’s terrible.”

That’s my point exactly. We need people to tell us our shot stinks and that we’re naked, just like the little girl in The Emporer’s New Clothes. It makes us better managers and if we accept the feedback about our products or services, better salespeople. Who doesn’t want that?

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