Tag Archives: life lessons

A Second Opinion

This Foodie Friday, it was an old Rodney Dangerfield joke that got me thinking:

My psychiatrist told me I was crazy and I said I want a second opinion. He said okay, you’re ugly too.

OK, so what does that have to do with food and, of course, with business? These days, much like Rodney’s psychiatrist, everyone’s a critic. There is a huge problem with that since constructive criticism implies that the critic knows something about the subject. Unfortunately, with the internet offering everyone with an opinion a place to express that opinion, the assumption that the critic knows anything about the subject is often proven to be completely wrong.

Think about a professional restaurant critic. They dine out several times a week at a minimum. They are exposed to many different types of cuisine and usually many different chefs cooking each type of those cuisines. They can distinguish between types of pizza or BBQ and write knowledgeably about what makes one execution better than another. Before they write about a place they will usually dine there a few times both so they can sample more of the menu and to make sure that their impressions with respect to service and the dishes are correct.

Now take your typical Yelp reviewer. They may go to a place once. Their experience with many cuisines is limited and the examples that they’ve sampled might not actually be representative of a great execution (think someone who stumbles on to real Chinese food vs. the American Chinese food served nearly everywhere). Maybe they had to wait 10 minutes past their reservation time and got angry so they wrote a bad review. In short, they often criticize based on limited information and out of spite, exactly the opposite of what any constructive criticism should be.

As a reader trying to figure out where to go for dinner, I look for a second opinion. One thing I do is to only look at the 1- or 2-star reviews. Generally, they have very little in common with one another which tells me that they might have been posted out of anger or a single bad experience. Maybe everyone thinks the desserts are awful but since I don’t eat dessert that’s not relevant to me. When things are apparent across the bad reviews, I trust that information. Ignore the false criticism and get a second opinion.

It’s the same in business. You can’t just listen to the praise directed at you, of course. You need to hear the criticism so you can grow. That said, you need a second opinion much of the time. Don’t take it personally, don’t listen to the tone but only to the words, and ask yourself what you can learn. Then go ask someone you trust – someone with enough experience both with you and your work – about the validity of the bad review.

Yes, opinions are like asses in that everyone has one. But they’re not all created equal. Get second opinions before you make changes, just as a smart restaurateur does. Value the informed critics and ignore the trolls. Can you do that?

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under food, Helpful Hints

Five Feet From Where?

If you’ve been reading the screed on a regular basis of late, you know that my recent experience of purchasing and moving into a new home has provided wonderful fodder for my rants. Today will continue the trend.

One thing that I asked the builder to do as part of the deal was to put up a five-foot fence in the back yard. He agreed and yet another adventure in communication began. It dawned on me as this adventure progressed that there is a great business point contained within.

I live in a community that has an HOA – a homeowner’s association. I’d never lived with one before and so wasn’t really used to the fact that most of the people living in “neighborhoods” down here live with the fact that a board can tell them everything from what color they can paint their home to the type of trees they can plant to the type and height of the fences they can erect and where. To build my fence, I needed HOA approval, and that’s when the fun started. I couldn’t get that approval until I actually owned the home. Until then, the developer’s regulations applied, meaning the fence could only extend five feet from the side of the house and be no more than four feet high. I wanted to live with the HOA rule of the fence being five feet from the property line, not from the house, which in my case meant it would extend an extra eight feet from the house. I also wanted the HOA to approve a five-foot-high fence. You with me so far?

The builder was happy to put up the fence but he would have to do so within the builder regulations unless I wanted to wait almost 2 months, the time it would take to close on the house and go through the HOA approval process. I won’t bore you with the details, but I managed to get the approval much faster (it helps to have golf buddies with good connections). The fence was going up as of last Friday and should be done by Monday, move-in day.

I drove by the new house on Friday and sure enough, the five foot high posts were in the ground, exactly five feet from the house and NOT from the property line. Despite many emails and calls back and forth, somehow the point of the delay – to get a variance to get five feet from the property line and not from the house – was lost even though the message about extra height got through. The fence company was told five feet from the house and they were not happy when they got the call to reset all the posts. Of course, there were also emails asking for proof that the variance had been granted (they’d received the copies several weeks before). As of right now, I’m looking at posts five feet high sitting five feet from the property line (and 13 feet from the house) awaiting the rails and pickets to be attached, hopefully, today or tomorrow.

What’s the business point? No matter what you think you’re communicating to someone, it’s always a good idea to review it again, especially when it involves something that’s not easily undone. Have the person repeat the instructions back to you. Make sure that nothing was lost in the communication. In my case, “five feet” wasn’t the issue. Five feet from where certainly was and that’s what got lost somehow. Good teams are all built around great communication. So are good partnerships and great customer service.

Frost wrote Something there is that doesn’t love a wall. Apparently, that something is unclear instruction and faulty communication, right?

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

Lucky Or Good

I have a rant for you today and I’m going to say upfront that it is not political in nature although as you read it you might think that it’s my intention to make it so.

One of the things I’ve noticed in business is that we tend to put people who are rich or successful (and usually both) on a pedestal. We assume that they know a heck of a lot more than we do because they are rich or successful. We listen to them give speeches and prognosticate on business and the world. The reality is that more often than not they’re more the beneficiaries of “right place, right time” than they are smart.

You think I’m exaggerating? Let’s take a few examples in tech. The founders of Google at one time said they’d never take ads because it might throw in to question the purity of their search results. It took a non-founder, a person you probably have never heard of, to convince them that great computer science is one thing but running a business that has investors is quite another. Advertising is what makes Google profitable. Are the founders smart or lucky?

Think of all of Google’s products or Facebook’s for that matter. Besides the “core” product, what have they invented that demonstrate that they’re not just a one-trick pony? YouTube? Instagram? What’s App? Sorry, all acquisitions. Most of the features or products they have were created elsewhere and either bought or copied. Think about how many failed products or features those companies have produced. I’d suggest that they, like many in tech, we much luckier than they were good and yet we venerate many of them as if they were Einstein.

Then there are those in business who were born on third base. These are the ones who came from money and often are working in a family business. The positions they’re in can command respect but unlike those people who advance into those positions via hard work and demonstrating talent, these folks are often unsuited for jobs several levels below where they are. I’ve encountered several of them in my career and did my best to avoid them in business dealings.

Would I rather be lucky than good? I often say exactly that, mostly after a wayward golf shot hits something and ricochets back into a good spot. Studies have shown that we can create luck by being extroverted, observant, and positive It also helps to have perfect timing as many of those who got rich in the early internet days did. The really smart ones got out, recognizing that when a rogue wave throws you out of the ocean rather than drowning you, use the dry land to run away.

This isn’t prompted by anything other than a two-hour car drive which afforded me some time to think. I’ve been both lucky and, I think, pretty good. Life isn’t a zero sum game and I don’t begrudge these charlatans their success. I do, however, wish some of them would stop confusing their success or the jobs they hold with who they are as people and what skills they possess. Hopefully, none of us are doing that, right?

Leave a comment

Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Slow Down

“Fail fast” has become one of the mantras of our age. The notion is that iterating fast failures will get us to the desired result faster than taking our time and seeking a more perfect answer. I agree that the perfect can be the enemy of the good and that at some point the cost of reducing variance and getting to the perfect far exceeds the benefits derived from actually getting there. But I’m not so sure that slowing down and taking a bit more time is a bad thing. Let me explain why.

People are deluged these days. Marketing messages overwhelm them. We don’t have 100 channels of entertainment nor even 1,000. There is an unlimited and expanding number of sources, both physical and digital, of entertainment. Walk into any supermarket and the product offerings in almost any category boggle the mind. Why is this a big deal? Because I don’t think you get a second chance. If you’re not solving a problem and creating value for the customer right out of the box, you’re dead. That means that you have to get it right the first time.

How many apps have you installed and removed from your phone because they didn’t meet your expectations the first time you opened the app? Was version 2.0 better? Who knows – they had their chance. How many new restaurants have you tried that were disappointing either in food or service and not returned? Did the menu evolve and new a manager show up to fix service? Who knows or cares – there are plenty of other options.

I’ve noticed it in a bad habit I have. My brain is often working too fast as I’m listening to people and I will often respond before I’ve listened to all the information they are trying to convey to me. I need to slow it down a bit so my first answer to them is the right answer and not something that I need to revise.

If you make things, do market research. If you write things, proofread them and put them aside to read them again in 5 minutes instead of hitting “send”. We all feel the time crunch and the need to get stuff done, but slow down a bit. Your results will be better and you’ll actually save time since you won’t need to do it all over again as more information changes your thinking. Make sense?

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Happy MLK Day. Dream On!

I think I got it right last year so I’m reposting it this year along with the introduction I wrote at the time. Happy birthday, Dr. King!

As I sat down to write this morning’s screed with Dr. King’s birthday on my mind, I realized that it’s been 50 years since that horrible year of 1968. I was 13 at the time and if you’re younger than about 55 today you probably have no memories of the almost non-stop bad news. It’s hard to believe but things seemed even more screwed up and polarized than they do today. The day Dr. King was shot is one of my indelible memories and the killing of Bobby Kennedy two months later snuffed out a small glimmer of hope that Dr. King’s legacy might come to fruition soon. It took another 40 years for that although there are valid arguments that we as a country are still waiting in many ways.

With that, what follows is my post on celebrating Dr, King and his message from a few years ago. It’s about listening, something many of us don’t do often enough. Maybe you can give it a try this week?

Today is the day we pause to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday.  I went back and looked at my post from two years ago, which was about dreams – specifically one of Dr. King’s dreams becoming a reality.  That was sort of focused on what he saw – his vision.  Today I want to focus on one of the great man’s best qualities that influenced how he acted to make that vision real.  I think it’s applicable to business.  No, it’s not going to be another ethics rant (although those are never out of style in my book).  Today, it’s about the most important skill I think all great businesspeople – and great leaders – possess.

To me, great leaders serve to fulfill the needs of their people.  For Dr. King, it meant endless meetings with various groups to understand their concerns and explain how broadening civil liberties to be more inclusive could help meet them.  For those of us in business, it means paying more attention to the concerns of our customers and co-workers than to our own agenda – these folks ARE our agenda to a certain extent, along with the underlying needs of our businesses.  In a word – listen.

Everyone wants to feel as if their ideas and thoughts are being heard if not acted upon. Without someone hearing them, acting on those concerns is impossible. Listening, then speaking, brings trust.

I know this isn’t a new thought in this space but it came to mind on this day thinking of Dr. King.  If you go back to the early days of Dr. King’s involvement in the civil rights movement, it’s pretty clear that he was a reluctant leader. He was drafted to lead and was kind of unsure of himself.  As he listened to the members of the community and other clergies, he realized that he was simply a voice for the community and their agenda became his agenda.

Many of you will be familiar with Stephen R. Covey, who wrote that we ought to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  I think Dr. King if he read pop-psychology, would have appreciated that.

What are you listening to today?

Leave a comment

Filed under Growing up, Helpful Hints, What's Going On

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?

Leave a comment

Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

A Few Thoughts From My New Gig

As I mentioned in this space a few weeks back, I’ve begun a new line of consulting involving matching people who are looking to take charge of their business lives and invest in a franchise of some sort with the right franchise for them. So far it’s been interesting work and today I’d like to share a few things I’ve found in this work that I think are applicable to other businesses. By the way, if you’re one of those people who want to be a corporation of one, click here to check out how I can help (end of gratuitous self-promotion).

Many of the things that come up are points that apply when you’re hiring or interviewing for a position yourself. The first is that of shared beliefs. Nearly every franchise gives me a listing of what their ideal candidate looks like. In many cases, they’re not looking at a technical skill set. You can be taught how to refinish a countertop or to run an afterschool program. Instead, I see things such as “belief in helping a community of learners” or “possess a passion to own a senior-focused care company that largely stems from personal experience caring for others.” You can’t teach those things. When you’re hiring, ask yourself if you’re more interested in someone who knows Excel inside and out or someone who will be a supportive member of your team and play nicely with the other kids in the sandbox. I always opt for the latter since I can teach the former.

Another thing that comes up a lot is that of a franchise’s record of success. How well does their system work? What are the financial results that prove it? If you’re looking to take a job because it’s more money, you’re overlooking the fact that the company may be hiring because people are leaving a sinking ship. How long have the current employees been there? Have they come up through the ranks? Why have people left? It’s relatively simple to find out how a company is doing, both from a financial and an employee-relations perspective. Take the time to find out. A larger paycheck is of lesser value if you’re miserable every day.

Finally, I try to help the candidate set realistic expectations about what their prospective business will be about. Very few people like surprises in business. Don’t oversell the job or the company if you’re hiring. Hopefully, you have a great story to tell and you should let the facts and track record speak for themselves. Keep the promises you make. If your expectations don’t align with the company’s or the candidate’s, there’s going to be a massive problem.

I always remind candidates that franchises are awarded, not sold. It’s a mutual job interview, not a business for sale off a shelf to anyone with the resources to invest. Your staff and your career should be treated the same way, don’t you think?

Leave a comment

Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud