Tag Archives: life lessons

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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Filed under Consulting, food

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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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

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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Engineers And Lawyers

Techcrunch published a piece yesterday that caught my attention because I think it hits a proverbial nail right on the head. It dealt with the topic of fake news but I think it has important things to say to any of us in business as well. To quote the piece, “The real problem isn’t fake news; it’s that people have given up on that search for truth.” It’s a topic we’ve touched on here many times but I really like how the author – Jon Evans – explains to two different mentalities under which many of us operate these days.

I still tend to come at the world with what he calls an engineer’s mentality. I look at the information in front of me, seek out as much new information as I can, and adjust my thinking even if what I find contradicts what I believed previously. Whether you think of that as an engineer or a scientist or just being an adult, it seemed as if most of the people I knew operated under a similar paradigm.

He goes on to make the point that most people today operate instead with a lawyer’s mentality. You pick a side (generally based upon who is your client!), and then sort through all the available information, picking and choosing that which supports your side while discarding (at best) or belittling (at worst) that which doesn’t. In other words, many of us approach the world with what can be a fatal case of confirmation bias.

Many of my closest friends in the world are lawyers. In their personal lives, most of them actually tend not to bring their professional mentality to their personal thinking. That said, what’s wrong with the lawyer’s point of view? Simple. That one-sided analysis of the “facts” will be offset in front of a decision-maker – a judge and/or jury – by the other, equally biased set of facts presented by the opposing counsel. In business (and life), we generally have to weigh ALL the information ourselves and do the best we can with respect to sorting out the truth or the best course of action. We need to be our own opposing counsel if you will.

We need to think like scientists. It’s fine to have a point of view or an initial hypothesis, but we really need to apply the scientific method in our business laboratories and validate our thinking. Not all data are meaningful or even truthful. Neither are all the things we hear from coworkers. Do your research, form your own opinions. Given where we are as a country, it might not hurt each of us to think about our thinking and how we go about forming our non-business opinions too, don’t you think?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Mything The Mark

Our Foodie Friday topic this week is myths. Specifically, I want us to consider a conversation I had with someone about one of my favorite topics: barbecue. There are many misconceptions about barbecue and one of them revolves around the topic of my conversation: the smoke ring. If you’ve ever had great ‘cue you’ve encountered the pink ring that lives on the edge of the meat.

Photo by Aziz Acharki

To the uninitiated, there is a concern that the meat is still somehow raw (why would the outside be raw when the inside is cooked?) but of course it’s actually a chemical reaction caused by some of the components in the smoke interacting with the meat (the myoglobin for you scientists out there). The person with whom I was speaking said it’s a great way to judge quality as well as if it’s “true ‘cue” – smoked over wood since you don’t get a ring when the meat is “smoked” over a propane unit. This, of course, is a myth. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve actually cooked some barbecue that looked beautiful – great bark, fabulous smoke ring – that was dry as a bone. Great Instagram material but lousy supper.

In fact, it’s possible to fake the smoke ring. All you need is some curing salt that contains sodium nitrite. Sprinkle it on the meat, cook it in an oven and there is a “smoke ring”. You can read all about it in this lengthy piece. My point is that it’s a food myth that a smoke ring is an indicator of quality in barbecue.

That’s not the only food myth, obviously. Eggs don’t contribute to high cholesterol, MSG doesn’t cause headaches in most of us, you don’t really sleep better after a nightcap before retiring, spicy foods don’t cause ulcers and drinking milk doesn’t increase mucus production when you have a cold. I’ll bet you’ve heard every one of those myths though. You’ve probably heard a bunch of business myths too.

You don’t have to be first to be successful – look at Amazon or eBay, neither of which was the first of their type. You don’t have to be the cheapest option in a category. Ask Lexus, Apple, Nordstroms or many others. Profit isn’t the most important thing (cash flow is!). And of course, my favorite: failing is bad. I’d argue the opposite – failing is almost mandatory on the path to success and is generally a good thing.

Don’t believe everything you hear or read. Sometimes it’s just one of those myths rearing its ugly head. Do your homework – find the facts. After all, we’re lucky to be living in a time when fact-finding has never been easier. Of course, there’s never been so much fake garbage to cull either!

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Filed under food, Reality checks

Gurus And Ninjas

Happy Valentine’s Day! I know it’s supposed to be a day for love but I want to focus on something I don’t love: gurus. OK, it’s not just gurus. It’s ninjas, wizards, mavens, and other self-proclaimed experts. I’m sick of them and, more importantly, I’m wary of the damage they cause. Let me explain and maybe I can bring you over to the dark side.

First, let me be clear about whom I speak. Generally, these are people who seem to spend a hell of a lot more time explaining how great they are at something rather than actually doing anything worth noting. Their professional profiles use words like ninja. I did a quick search and came up with over 60,000 results for that word on LinkedIn. Do any of them know what a ninja actually is? According to Wikipedia, it’s a

mercenary in feudal Japan. The functions of the ninja included espionagesabotageinfiltrationassassination and guerrilla warfare.[1] Their covert methods of waging irregular warfare were deemed dishonorable and beneath the samurai, who observed strict rules about honor and combat.

I’m not sure any businessperson wants to hire a dishonorable assassin but I could be wrong. Yes, I get that the meaning of words changes over time but if you mean to say you’re an expert, say it. Maybe they can’t because they’re not really experts at anything other than self-promotion.

Speaking of misused, overused job titles, let’s move on to “maven.” A maven is an expert, actually a “trusted expert in a particular field, who seeks to pass timely and relevant knowledge on to others in the respective field.” The key words here are “trust” and “expert.” I’ve checked out a few “mavens” and when well over 75% of their social followers are fake and they’ve been in their field of practice for under 5 years, I think they’re neither trustworthy nor experts.

We all have personal brands. Some of us work very diligently at getting that brand out there and others of us do great work and hope that work speaks for itself. I’ll admit that I probably should have done more self-promotion over the years although in my defense there weren’t the opportunities to do it on one’s own as there are now. I still rely on clients to bring me other clients and on readers of the screed to do the same. I try to connect with people I know and respect, focusing on quality.

Does any of this make me a guru? A maven? A freakin’ ninja? Nope. I’m just a guy who’s been at this for longer than most of the self-promoters have been alive and who has already made most of the mistakes they’re going to make, probably using someone else’s business to do so. Is it self-promotion to say I’ve already learned from the mistakes they’re going to make so they won’t happen in the first place?

If you’re a guru, act like one. Be the one who dispels the darkness and takes towards the light. Be a counselor and an inspiration. A ninja? Not so much.

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

My Uncle’s Poetry

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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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud