Tag Archives: life

Balsamico And Business

The question, this Foodie Friday, is have you ever had true balsamic vinegar? Not the junk they sell at the supermarket that’s probably made outside of Italy, but true balsamic vinegar that bears a D.O.P. stamp, a European Union certification that guarantees an ingredient’s quality, production, and place of origin. In the case of balsamic, it must be made in Reggio Emilia and Modena, Italy, using traditional methods, and production is overseen from beginning to end by a special certification agency.

I won’t go into detail about the process, but the key takeaway for today is that it takes a long time to make. Like a dozen years or more. Every step of the way, the amount of vinegar in the barrels is reduced as the product concentrates. You need to take the long view of what the business will be if you’re going to start producing this stuff! It requires patience, resilience, capital, commitment, and much more.

The same can be said about a winery. Planting vines, getting them to produce, bottling and aging all take time. You need to think long-term. I think the same sort of thinking is involved when you go to make some dishes. Great barbecue takes a long time. So does a great Bolognese Sauce (even with a pressure cooker – believe me, I’ve tried!).

Whether it’s Balsamico or business, there are no short cuts. Great things take time, generally more than we’d like. As we often see in today’s world, moving fast and breaking things often results in a disaster even as the company expands rapidly. The fall is often as fast as the rise.

Maybe my thinking is more tortoise than hare, but I’m a believer in taking the time to get things right. I play the long game. As with balsamico, you need to commit to the process, as do all the stakeholders. There’s a reason the good vinegar sells for $200 an ounce, and once you’ve experienced it you’ll understand the difference between it and the $16 bottle you get at the supermarket. Greatness takes time, both in the barrel and in business, right?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

Great Skills

I spent some time last week speaking with a fellow who is trying to change his life. I meet a lot of those folks in my franchise consulting role. They’re tired of working for someone else and want to invest what they’ve saved in creating a new, better life for themselves and their families.

One thing we talk about early on in the process is the skill set the candidate is bringing with them. Have they managed people? Do they like selling? Do they know about technology? It’s not that any skill set is better or worse. It’s simply about identifying what they bring beyond financial resources as we examine the hundreds of possibilities out there.

The fellow I spoke with last week works in auto repair. He’s a “body man.” Unfortunately, many of the auto body repair franchises are well beyond his financial abilities so we talked about some others. I also brought up a franchise that’s involved in drywall repair. He said he didn’t know anything about drywall and he didn’t have those skills. I reminded him that this, like most other franchises, offers a lot of training but putting that aside, I asked why repairing drywall is that much different from repairing sheet metal. He’s now considering the franchise but it raised a good point that we all need to remember.

Many of us focus on the trees and not on the forest. We think about learning a skill in a vacuum instead of the broader application that learning may have. Learning to code, for example, can teach project management, since you can’t perform either one well without a great plan and a flow chart of sorts.  It’s also a good reminder that learning the “broad” skills of communication, problem-solving, and teamwork have application across the board. That’s why so many of the business opportunities I deal with emphasize they want candidates with those skills and will train them on the specific skills needed to be successful.

Unlike Napoleon Dynamite, we all DO have skills and most of us have more of them than we think. What are yours?

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Every Day Is April Fools

How many head-scratching headlines have you seen today? Google’s Files app now cleans your phone screen from the inside? Guy Fieri has been brought in to cater the Champions’ Dinner at the Masters? Roku announced a remote designed to be dog-friendly?

None of those things are true, of course. They’re just three of this year’s batch of April Fool’s jokes that seem to run rampant across the interwebs. Actually, HelloFresh’s announcement of a Unicorn Box, which they say is a “brand new, first-of-its-kind experience will let you eat like a mythical creature. Brush away the confetti to find a box full of farm-fresh rainbows, smiles, and joy right at your doorstep” sounds kind of yummy. It’s so obviously silly that you can ignore it safely. Others, like the Google video of the screen cleaner, are close enough to plausible to have you wondering if they’re a joke or a scientific breakthrough.

So you’re probably dialing up your BS detector as you surf around the digital world today. You probably have seen odd announcements from your friends on social media saying they’re leaving their jobs or investing in gold mines. You know they’re kidding but there is an excellent reminder in all of this.

Every day is April Fool’s Day. There is an awful lot of made-up garbage floating around out there and if we’re not skeptics we’re going to have the proverbial wool pulled over our eyes. Unfortunately, it’s rarely as obvious when something is fake the other 364 days of the year. Check facts using reputable fact-checking sites. Ask yourself who has an interest in what I’m reading being the truth and how does it affect them if it’s not? Read and listen carefully. What’s not being said? Does it seem as if a fine line is being walked with how the words are chosen and phrased?

If you can’t dazzle them with the facts, baffle them with your BS is my paraphrasing of the old W.C. Fields quote (he used brilliance instead of facts).  You need to remember that more people and businesses think that way than you’d expect. Make every day April Fool’s when it comes to picking up what they’re putting down. Make sense?

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

Getting It Done At Home

I had my last job in corporate America in 2007. What that means is that for the last 11+ years I’ve been working on my own out of a home office. I suspect, given the way the business world has changed over the last decade, that many of you are in the same situation. Maybe you elected to spend a few bucks on a desk at some co-working space and while that’s fine, this post isn’t really for you. It’s for those of us who absolutely could stay in our PJ’s propped up in bed with a laptop all day and no one would be any the wiser.

I will admit that I’ve done exactly that. I’ll also tell you that it really isn’t the optimal thing to do if you want to be productive. I have a few other thoughts about getting it done while working at home and I thought I’d share them with you today. What brought this on is that I’ve had many candidates looking at home-based businesses and I usually try at some point to tell them how different it is to work from home.

First, the one thing you MUST do is to pick up the telephone. While email is a great way to communicate about some things, you miss the nuance that human interaction brings. Moreover, it’s fun! Human interaction is great! When I started doing franchise consulting and found myself on the phone almost constantly, I realized how much I missed that. Very early in my career (long before email) I spent hours cold calling and setting up meetings. Phone time decreased over the years until when I was working at home it was barely part of what I did. Don’t be a monk: use the phone.

Take breaks. I believe in the 20-20-20 rule for your eyes (look away from the screen at something 20 feet away every 20 minutes) but it’s also important that you mirror the brief interruptions you usually get working in a corporate office. Be sure you eat (not over your keyboard!).  Take a walk. Spend an hour hitting golf balls. Do something not work-related so you don’t drive yourself crazy, which it’s easy to do when there isn’t anyone else around to distract you.

Don’t feel guilty when you run errands or do other things that you couldn’t do if you were still in the corporate world. There are many downsides to working on your own and at home. The freedom to use your time as you see fit is one of them.

Finally, if you have space, really set up a dedicated room as an office. Besides providing a tax deduction, it’s always made me feel like the professional that I am. I’m writing this in my home office which has the same sort of stuff on the wall as I had in my corporate offices.  It feels like I’m at work. Having the dedicated space also reminds me that I’m off work when I walk into the rest of the house and I should behave that way.

How do you get it done at home? Any tips of your own that you’d like to share?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

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?

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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?

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Filed under Consulting, What's Going On, 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?

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